November 5th, 10 am.

Today is another cool, clear, fall day. It is a day for me to compare two ungulates, the Black-tailed deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus and the Tule Elk, Cervus elaphus nannodes, that live in the mitigation lands and in  Mendocino County. Our Tule Elk are of course, much bigger than the Black-tailed deer. with an average bull elk weighing between 400 to 700 pounds while the buck black-tailed deer weigh from 90 to 140 pounds! Their hoofprints are half to a quarter of the size of an elk. In both species, males have antlers, not horns, which are shed once a year but the antlers of a Tule elk bull can weigh as much as 40 pounds! This is the physical reason why the bull elk has such a massive neck, to hold up a very heavy rack of antlers. The Tule bulls have a thick long reddish “mane” around their necks which is lacking in the Black-tailed buck.  As you look at the photos of the two species you can see that the black-tailed deer have much bigger ears and their tails are longer with the whole top side black

Besides the physical characteristics, there are some other differences. Tule elk are opportunistic feeders, and they will eat a variety of plant species when the forage is available. This means they will eat primarily grasses when available but switch to browsing on the tender shoots of trees and shrubs as summer progresses and in the fall they can subsist entirely on dry grasses, forbs, and shrubs. The black-tailed deer are mainly grazers preferring to eat grass all the time but as we who are gardeners know they will eat shrubs, trees, and forbs of all kinds when summer has dried up all the grasses. One other difference between these two related cousin ungulates is that starting in the late part of August through the end of the year, Tule elk bulls make a very strange loud sound that is called bugling. It does not sound like a bugle to me unless it is a very squeaky one! It is an impressive sound that carries across the valley at times. The deer buck uses bleats and grunts for communications, sometimes sounding like an animal in distress, when in rutting season. This is also when the bull elk are using their bugling. Both have their young calves and fawns in the springtime and both of their young have spots until they are older.

We are so lucky to have both of these hoofed mammals to observe and enjoy in the Willits Valley