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Why These Moose are Butting Heads on a Suburban Street

The battle royale in Anchorage, Alaska, is typical of dangerous seasonal rutting behavior, says scientist.

Watch two bull moose duke it out in suburban Alaska.

A quiet suburban street in South Anchorage, Alaska, played host to a pitched battle between two big male moose last week, with the head butting and wrestling was caught on camera.

The action occurred on a lawn and in the street in Goldenview Park and was recorded by local Bill Tyra, who kept a vehicle between him and the sparring animals.

That was a good move, because male moose tend to be more aggressive and dangerous this time of year—during their annual rut cycle—says Kristine M. Rines, a moose biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

During the moose rut, which typically occurs from mid-September to mid-October, females become fertile. That causes testosterone to spike in the males. The bulls stop eating and their necks swell in size. They spend all their energy looking for female cows to impress and mate.

“All they can think of is where is a lovely cow,” says Rines.

Even if a cow isn’t immediately present, if two bulls meet during the rut they will often square off.

“Typically it's just a display, but occasionally bulls will lock antlers and push each other around,” says Rines.

That’s exactly what happens in Tyra’s video.

“It's usually just a short pushing and shoving match,” says Rines. “Until one bull decides the other is bigger and stronger and he will trot off.”

Occasionally, the bulls will injure each other, sometimes even resulting in death. In rare cases, the antlers will become hopelessly tangled, eventually resulting in starvation. (Learn about the appearance of “ghost moose” in New England.)

During the rut it’s not uncommon for males to spar in populated areas. “They pretty much have no idea where they are, they are so totally focused on each other,” says Rines. “If they happen to meet in a downtown urban setting that's where the fight is going to take place.”

As for the cord-like material seen hanging off one of the moose’s antlers in Tyra’s video, Rines says that’s not too uncommon. During rut, they often rake their antlers in the underbrush to intimidate their rivals. If they come in contact with manmade materials, they sometimes do the same, occasionally destroying furniture, swing sets, and other items in the process. In rare cases, the animals can get injured by the resulting debris.

Hikers and those who live in moose country are advised to take extra precautions during the rut season, says Rines, who suggests keeping a far distance from the big, aggressive animals (they injure more people than bears in Alaska).

If you see one, give it room and keep big objects like cars or trees between you and the wild animal. They aren’t Bullwinkles.

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