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What Do Elks Eat?

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Elks are also called Wapiti and are the largest species of deer from the Cervidae family.  These animals are also the largest terrestrial mammals found in North America and Northeast Asia.

Mature male elks can reach a length of 2.4 meters from nose to tail and can weigh up to 330kg.  Mature females can reach a length of 2.1 meters and can weigh up to 240kg.

Being such large mammals, you can be that these species do have quite a healthy appetite.

What Does Elk Eat?

Elks are herbivore animals meaning they only consume vegetation.  Most of their food is found in the wild and they mainly graze all day long.  They do however consume quite a large variety of foods such as the following.  Elk does have four stomachs that all assist in processing unchewed food.  They will also chew cud when they are resting and swallow the cud again once chewed.


Elks need water to survive.  They are migrating animals and will survive for a few days without water if these sources are scarce on their journey.  But they do need access to freshwater or they will become dehydrated.  Ideally, elk should be able to drink water every day.


Elk mostly grazes on natural grasses.  Elk prefers to graze undisturbed.  If they do encounter humans while grazing, they are very likely to stop feeding so they can observe or flea.  Elk will eat a variety of grasses and they rely on this food source throughout the year.  Elk is quite fond of grasses such as bluegrass, wheatgrass, bromegrass, bunchgrass, fescue, and a few other species.

Flowering plants

Elks are also quite fond of natural flowering plants they find in the wild.  They eat a variety of shrubs and ground covers such as bitterbrush, currant, deer brush, elderberry, huckleberry, ocean spray, red-twig dogwood, serviceberry, snowberry, sumac, and wild rose.

Sprouts and brushes

In spring, they set their focus on softer leafy greens and soft twigs.  Elk will eat all sorts of sprouts, brushes, forbs, ferns, and legumes.   They eat a variety of plants such as alfalfa, clover, cow-parsnip, dandelion, fireweed, sweet clover, yellow salsify, and many others.

Tree leaves

Elks also love to eat leaves from trees they find in the wild.  They certainly are tall enough to reach leaves and they enjoy eating a variety of tree species such as aspen, chokecherry, cottonwood, rocky mountain maple, red alder, vine maple, willow, and many others.

Wild mushrooms

Mushrooms are some of the elk mammal’s favorite foods.  They enjoy eating a variety of wild mushrooms they can find.  Mushrooms are considered a treat to these animals since they don’t find them quite as frequently as other foods such as grasses and leaves.


Many keepers prefer to offer their elk supplements.  The best supplements are licks that contain lots of salt and other minerals to help them grow healthy.  Supplements are especially important to female elk that are rearing young since these minerals assists in milk production.

Diet Variations

Elks do consume a wide range of vegetation such as grasses, brushes, leaves, trees, and many other foods.  In harsh times, they may try to consume other foods such as bark.  The biggest diet variation they have is that they consume more of certain foods in different seasons.  For example; elks mainly consume grasses in wintertime and brushes or leaves in the summertime because these foods are more freely available.

How to Feed Elk

Elks are shy mammals.  If a wild elk spots you, it will very likely run away.  The best way to feed wild elk is by placing food in a dedicated area where they feel comfortable to feed.  Ideally, you can place food near a watering hole.

If you do want to observe elk, you should try to camouflage yourself and hide your natural scents.  These animals have a highly developed sense of smell and they will become frightened if they see or smell a human close to their feeding area.

Elks that are raised in captivity can become quite tame.  After viewing movies like The Hobbit, there has been an increase in the popularity of the idea of riding an elk.  Raising an elk to ride it is however not the best idea.  It can be dangerous and is considered animal cruelty since elks do not have a bone structure that can support the weight.

What Do Elk Eat In the Wild?

In the wild elks will only eat foods they find in their surroundings.  They are also migrating animals which means they will relocate to different regions if food becomes scarce.  Elk usually focuses on vegetation such as trees, shrubs, grasses, and bushes that grow in their habitat.

What do Baby Elk Eat?

A baby elks are called calves.  Females are called cows and males are called bulls.  Elk cows usually only birth one calf at a time and calves do weight around 14 – 16 kilograms when they are born.  Within 20 minutes of birth, the calf will stand on its own but its mother will keep it separate from the herd for about 16 days.

Calves rely on their mothers for survival.  They wean until they are 60 days old and they will start to graze on grass when they reach about one month of age.  They are fully mature when they are 16 months of age.

How Much Do Elk Eat?

As a rule of thumb, an elk needs about 1.4 kg of food per every 45 kilograms it weighs.  This means that an average 227-kilogram cow needs about 7 kilograms of food and can 363-kilogram bull requires about 11 kilograms of food every single day.

What Foods Are Toxic To Elk?

Feeding deer can sometimes be dangerous to their health, even if you do offer healthy foods. In many cases, elk is supplemented with food in harsh winter times.  The sudden supply of food can cause digestive problems and nutritional imbalances in their bodies.  If you do offer deer food, the food should be offered in limited quantities.

What Predators Eat Elk?

Elk might be large and powerful but they are still vulnerable to various predators.  Elk young is a very good food source for various predatory species.  Adult elk can also be caught by larger predators such as wolf packs.

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