By: Dawn Wilson

This week’s featured animal is the elk. Yes, I have covered elk in this column a few times, but with as many as 800 elk in the meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park and several hundred more in Estes Park and the nearby foothills in the winter, there is no shortage of interest in this large member of the deer family. This week let’s look at five fun facts about how elk survive the winter.

1. During the fall rut, bull elk may lose up to 20 percent of their body weight so the winter becomes a season to conserve energy and replenish some of those lost pounds.

2. Most elk will move out of the higher elevations to come down to montane meadows or even to the foothills to find food that is more likely to stay free of snow.

3. On windy days, and there are a lot of those in the winter in Estes Park, the elk will retreat to the cover of the forest to stay out of the energy-zapping gusts. Trees can also produce a small amount of energy, which melts snow around the base of trees, giving elk exposed ground for resting and branches that work as a natural umbrella.

4. The winter coat of elk is comprised of two layers: a thick, dense undercoat for warmth, which is five times warmer than the summer coat, and long guard hairs with thousands of tiny air pockets to trap heat.

5. Elk have a lower surface area-to-volume ratio, which means less relative area to lose heat.

Dawn Wilson is a professional and award-winning nature photographer who lives in Estes Park year-round. You can see more of her work, join one of her Rocky tours, and purchase prints at or follow her on Instagram: @dawnwilsonphoto.

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