Elk Herd Social Behavior – Elk Migration, Elk Sounds, Bull Elk Bugling
Elk have a complicated social behavior that lends to exciting wildlife viewing and survival in harsh environments. Elk are organized around a matriarchal society.
The herd leaders are older cows. These lead cows know the migration routes, calving areas, river crossings and other important information. Migration is a learned behavior, not instinctive. Older cows will teach younger elk migration paths from summer to winter ranges.
Cow/calf herds and mature bulls tend to stay segregated except during the rut, although younger bulls can be seen with the cows. Bulls tend to stay in bachelor groups, except for the rut when they are competing with one another.
Elk exhibit a range of sounds to warn of predators and communicate with one another. Cows and calves “chirp” or “mew” back and forth when the herd is moving, feeding or
regrouping. This allows the animals to keep in contact with each other.
Bulls also bugle, bark and make other sounds. Elk are gregarious animals, and displays of dominance are common within the herd. Cows may lower their head and flatten their ears or two cows may stand on their back legs and box. Bulls spar with their antlers, or box when the antlers have been shed.
Social behavior peaks during the rut. Bull displays of dominance can be very subtle, by the tilt of the antlers or in the bull’s walk. When bulls fight, it is usually between equally matched animals, and it is an effort to push the other back until he retreats. Fatalities
from these fights are not common, but injuries occur frequently.