Here’s something you don’t see every day. In a 15-minute video posted to YouTube in 2019, a moose apparently hunts and kills a gosling. The video, titled “Elk Eats Baby Goose,” begins with the elk frolicking along the edge of a small pond, chasing a red-winged blackbird.
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Later in the video, around the five-minute mark, the moose notices a pair of adult geese with six-day-old chicks in an open field meters from the pond, and heads straight for the geese. At first, the birds seem unconcerned. But as the cow gets closer, she changes her course to follow the geese when they try to get out of her way. Adult geese react defensively. One repeatedly flies at the moose, chasing it into the pond. But eventually, both geese end up in the water, leaving an opening for the moose to move over the chicks on land. He soon grabs one with his teeth and bites into it for several minutes. See for yourself below.
An expert tries to analyze the strange incident.
Andy Holland, the state big game coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), has been a wildlife biologist for 21 years. He says the moose’s behavior is weird, but he doesn’t think it’s really hunting. “I think it’s more than just predatory behavior, but I can’t explain what it is,” says Holland. He estimates that the moose is a one year old or a two year old. “This is very strange and unusual behavior. I’ve never seen anything like it and I really don’t have an explanation.”
It is not unusual for ruminants to eat birds. Between 1996 and 1999, Pam Pietz and Diane Granfors, biologists at the US Geological Survey’s Northern Prairies Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, North Dakota, used miniature cameras to monitor predation on nests of songbirds. They filmed white-tailed deer eating songbird chicks on four occasions. It was considered the first documentation of deer actively pursuing their prey.
Holland says he’s not familiar with that or any other study showing ruminants eat meat, and if it happens occasionally, it’s not a major part of their diet: “I’m pretty solidly in the herbivore camp for moose,” he says. . In this case, he points out, the evidence is inconclusive.
“I am not going to say [the elk] I wasn’t trying to eat [the gosling]because it seemed so. But it might have been more out of curiosity than anything else. I clearly believe that if it was a predatory moose, it would have eaten the gosling,” she says. “I watched the video very carefully and I didn’t see her eat it. I think at some point he just loses interest.”
There is apparently nothing wrong with the moose’s physical condition to explain its behavior, nor does it appear to be protecting a calf. An informal survey of big game researchers and managers at the CPW office produced no theories. “I would just say that there are a lot of things in nature that we don’t understand, and I’ll put this one in that category of unexplained observations.”
As to whether the behavior is simply a game or something more, Holland has a stronger opinion, but does not yet have definitive answers. “The cow she acted a little playful with the red-winged blackbird when she was buzzing her, but she didn’t act very playful with the geese. That seemed pretty serious to me,” she says. “But again, I don’t understand why that interaction happened.”
It’s safe to say the geese didn’t understand either. Although they eventually herded five of the six chicks into the pond and out of range of the moose, they clearly didn’t consider it a threat until it was too late. “This is not normal behavior, and I think the geese were as surprised as I was that the moose behaved this way,” says Holland.