If you’ve ever seen moose in the wild, you’ll know just how large they are. An animal that size needs a lot of food to keep them going. But what do moose eat?
Moose are herbivores that mainly eat browse plants and vegetation. As moose are wild animals they will eat what is available to them seasonally including trees, fruits, vegetables, fungi, nuts, and aquatic plants. Moose are not opportunistic eaters and can be very particular about the food they consume.
You’ll see that moose have quite a specialized diet. That’s pretty surprising since you’d think an animal that size would eat everything in sight. So how do moose survive with such a particular diet?
This guide will take you through everything you want to know about a moose’s eating habits. You’ll learn what they eat and some of their feeding habits too.
Let’s get started.
What do Moose eat?
1. Trees and shrubs
The main staple of a moose’s diet is trees and shrubs known as browse. This is the name given to vegetation that grows off the ground. So moose are browsers rather than grazers. That means they’ll eat the vegetation that is higher off the ground rather than low down, such as short grass.
Parts of the trees and shrubs that the moose eat are the leaves, buds, shoots, and twigs.
The season will dictate what the moose has available to them. So in spring and summer, they get a lot of soft, leafy green vegetation. Then in autumn and winter, they are left with the tough, woody twigs.
Moose are known to eat the bark from trees, especially when food supplies are low. This doesn’t give them much nutritional value but will fill them up.
Being a browsing animal means that moose are much more selective about the trees and shrubs they do eat. Moose appear to favorite trees and shrubs which are harder to find. Yet when food is scarce they’ll eat vegetation which is more common.
Common trees and shrubs that moose eat are:
- Balsam Fir
A moose consumes around 30-40lbs of vegetation each day to stay well-fed and healthy.
Moose will eat wildflowers in rural areas, but they will also eat ornamental plants that they stumble across. That’s not good news for your beautiful garden if you’re a keen gardener.
Moose can easily decimate a beautiful flower display, and they are much more attracted to plants that are rare. The moose won’t hesitate to eat both young shoots as well as fully grown and flowering plants. Blossoms and buds are known to be particularly appealing to moose in the spring and summer.
Some plants that moose are attracted to are:
- Labrador Tea
If you plant these in your yard and have moose in the area, then you may have them drop by. Although moose can be fussy about what flower they like they’ll probably have a nibble at anything if they are hungry. They appear to be put off by bitter-tasting flowers such as lungwort or bleeding hearts.
3. Fruit and Vegetables
Moose will take advantage of the fruit and vegetable supplies they find throughout the year. Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The large moose need these to maintain their health.
Moose can find fruits as they forage around in forests, orchards, farmlands, and urban yards.
Fruit that moose love to eat are:
Moose are also known to enjoy vegetables when they find them. Again these are found in the same locations where they find fruits. Although moose can be quite selective about the vegetables they’ll eat.
The vegetables that moose enjoy are:
Moose seem to have a preference for eating dark leafy greens. Although they tend to avoid vegetables that have strong smells, thorny leaves, or skins. That’s because moose have noses that are extremely sensitive to touch and smell.
Due to the sheer volume of vegetables that moose can eat, they can easily destroy farmyard crops in a matter of days.
Moose like to feed on fungi sources such as mushrooms and lichen. They will often come across these when they are foraging around trees. Mushrooms are another great source of food for moose during the autumn and winter months.
Fungi are an excellent source of minerals and salts that moose need to remain healthy and grow strong antlers. Moose can help mushrooms to reproduce by spreading their spores with their poo.
Moose are known to eat psychedelic mushrooms such as fly agaric, which can make them act a little bit ‘drunk’, although they do little harm to the moose.
Moose can live in woodlands and forests where nut trees are plentiful. This means that nuts can be used as a food source during the colder months when fresh vegetation is hard to find. Nuts are full of healthy fats and protein.
Moose will eat nuts available to them including:
They will depend on what nut trees are available to them locally. Just like with mushrooms, moose can help to plant trees by eating the nuts and pooping them out somewhere else in the forest.
6. Grains & grasses
As moose are browsers, they don’t really eat low-lying vegetation. Yet grains and tall grasses are ideal for them to eat. Farmers can often see moose as pests if they have a grain field that the moose is attracted to.
Grains that moose eat are:
Grains can provide moose with a lot of energy and fiber in their diet. In the autumn months, they can use large agricultural fields as an easy food source to fill up on. Although eating too much grain can cause moose to feel full without it giving them much nutritional benefit. This can cause moose to become unhealthy or vulnerable to physical deformities.
7. Aquatic plants
Moose spend a lot of their time in the water, so it makes sense that they have adapted to feed on aquatic plants.
Surprisingly moose can actually go diving to reach some plants which are up to 18ft deep. They do this by closing off their nostrils and being able to bite and chew underwater. They can stay underwater for up to 50 seconds at a time.
A moose’s unique ability to eat aquatic plants gives them a foraging advantage over many land mammals. They will eat a variety of aquatic plants at various levels in the water.
Some aquatic plants that moose eat are:
- Water Lily
Aquatic plants are much richer in sodium and iron, which moose need for antler formation. You’ll see moose eating much more aquatic plants in the summers, however, they will also eat them in the winter. That’s because the aquatic plants can remain free of snow and ice underwater in the northern climates that moose live in.
8. Salt & Mud
Salt and mud are a strange part of the moose’s diet. Yet it’s an essential way for moose to get a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Just like their smaller counterparts, the deer, these nutrients are needed for the large bone growth to maintain their skeleton and antlers.
Salt can be found in various sources for moose including salt licks, soil, rocks, and shores. You may have seen a moose licking a car in the winter, and wondered why they do this. Well, the answer is to get the salt from the surface.
Vegetation sources are not particularly rich in the minerals the moose need. So they turn to eating soil sources, a behavior known as geophagy. Moose will often seek out the roots of fallen trees, to eat the extra mineral-enriched soil.
9. Moose milk
Baby moose (calf) will drink their mother’s breast milk for the first 6 months of their life. The moose breastmilk is essential for young calves to develop strong bones and antlers as they grow.
Moose milk is the only thing that the calves will eat for the first four weeks. After this time they will start to forage alongside their mothers. If the mother is killed before the moose starts to wean onto browse, then it will likely die.
Moose milk is extremely high in fat. The nutrients in the milk mean it’s commercially sold in countries such as Russia, Sweden, and Canada.
Do moose eat meat?
Moose are true herbivores which means they do not eat any animals as part of their diet. Moose will only eat plants and vegetation.
They may accidentally consume some insects or fish when they are foraging for plants on land and underwater.
What do moose eat in winter?
Moose will continue to eat their usual diet in the winter. The only difference is that they will switch from eating the leafy green and shoots to eating the twigs and bark. As moose are browsers they don’t have to worry about foraging food under heavy snowfall or frozen grounds.
Moose are also able to forage for green plants which grow underwater throughout the winter. They don’t need to compete with many other mammals for this food. Plus foraging in the water keeps them safe from hungry predators.
Moose will try to up their food intake in later summer and fall, in preparation for winter survival. This allows them to build fat stores and reduce their daily activity once the bad weather hits. Taking it easy allows moose to conserve energy.
Should you feed moose?
You shouldn’t feed wild moose, as it’s illegal for you to do so in the USA. You can check out more information on that here.
Feeding moose can make them aggressive around humans. This happens when they rely on humans for food sources then attack if they don’t get any.
This applies to food that you feed the moose directly or leave out with the intention of feeding wild moose in the area.
Feeding moose foods that are not a part of their natural diet will likely cause them ill health. This is the result of nutritional deficiencies which can make them unhealthy or even cause physical deformities.
As browsers, moose can have quite a restricted diet of plants and vegetation. But, they eat a large variety within this bracket. They can opt for leaves, fruits, vegetables, grasses, grains, fungi, or trees.
Moose eat large volumes of these foods, and they are well adapted to finding them in winter conditions. Using underwater plants also helps the moose to have a larger supply of plants than animals that only eat on land.
Remember to leave moose to their own devices as it’s illegal to feed them in the USA. It’s not worth the risk it presents to you and the moose.