The Many Sounds Of Elk, And What They Mean

Elk are very vocal creatures, probably the most talkative of the Cervidae family. But in what situations do elk make sounds to communicate with other members of their herd?

These situations include distress, submission, identifying a threat, maternal communication, social chatting, advertising, and mating.

Depending on the type of elk and time of year, you can deduce what an elk is trying to convey. So let’s take a closer look at why and when elk are so vocal.

Are Elk Very Noisy?

Depending on the time of the year, elk can be quite boisterous creatures. They have a wide range of vocal cues that they use to interact with other members of their herd. 

Some of these vocalizations are most common during the rut, but if you are lucky enough to be within earshot of a herd you will certainly notice that they are anything but silent.

What Should You Do If You Hear An Elk?

Be as quiet as possible, sit back, and enjoy the show! Listening to elk communicate, especially over long distances, is a wonder to behold. You may not be able to understand them at first, but with a little practice, you will feel like part of the conversation.

As long as you are at a distance and not interfering with their mating rituals or calves, elk can be the source of some free outdoor entertainment.

Do Elk Communicate In Other Ways Than Making Sounds?

Other than the various sounds they make, elk use things like scent and body language to communicate. 

Body Language

Elk are able to convey many messages with their movements instead of sound. This can usually be identified by looking at what the elk is doing with its head.

When elk are agitated or alarmed they raise their heads high and move their ears around to assess the situation. They can also express aggression by hissing while grinding their teeth and curling their upper lip. Bull elk will also lower their heads and circle a lone cow that has wandered off during the rut.

Scent

Bull elk utilize a skill known as self-impregnation to attract a mate during their mating season. They urinate on themselves in order to stand out in areas that have other prospective bulls in them.

They also use scents to track other elk and mark their territory.

What Are The Primary Sounds That Elk Make?

The many sounds of elk can vary depending on the sex of the elk as well as who they are trying to communicate with.

The primary sounds that elk make include:

  • Bugle
  • Chuckle
  • Grunt
  • Glunk
  • Chirp
  • Mew
  • Scream
  • Bark

As you can see, elk are much more vocal than most people give them credit for.

What Is Elk Bugling?

Bugling is probably the most commonly associated sound with elk and is used as a form of advertising during the mating season within the species.  

It starts off as a deep bellowing that transforms into a much higher-pitched scream that can be heard from miles away. This call is reserved for mature bull elk, so if it’s a bugle you hear, you can bet a bull elk is near.

When Do Elk Bugle?

Bugling can be heard frequently during the mating season, or rut, of elk.  This usually takes place in the fall between September and October. Bugling can be heard nonstop throughout the night, from dusk until dawn, and even sometimes in the middle of the day.

It is mainly used as a mating call to let cow elk know they are in the area and looking for a mate. Bull elk also bugle as a sign of dominance to warn other bulls in the area not to encroach on their territory.

How Loud Is An Elk’s Bugle?

An elk’s bugle is extremely loud and can be heard from many miles away. Hearing a bugle will let you know that there are bulls in the area, but it won’t necessarily let you know how big of an elk it is.

Elk are massive mammals that have very large vocal cords that go along with their large frames. An average bull elk weighs around 700 pounds, an animal of this size will have a monstrous set of lungs that are capable of making very loud sounds.

Do Elk Make “Trumpet” Sounds?

Elk don’t necessarily make sounds that sound like the popular brass jazz instrument,  trumpeting is a term that refers to bugling. When an elk bugles, it is considered to be trumpeting, loudly broadcasting its vocal abilities to attract a mate in the area.  

What Is An Elk Chuckle?

A chuckle is a series of sounds that can either come at the end of a bugle or all by itself.  What does an elk chuckle sound like?  Well, exactly like the name sounds.  Not like the chuckle humans make, but more like deep grunts, one after the other.

This vocalization goes hand in hand with the rut and bugling, signifying a bull elk’s presence to cows and asserting dominance over other bulls. 

Do Elk Make Grunting Sounds?

Elk make grunting noises in a variety of different situations, especially when they spar with other elk.  

During the rut, bull elk will clash together with their antlers in a display of dominance that is used to attract a mate. These large creatures will collide repeatedly in an attempt to push the opponent back or off of its feet.

Adult elk can also be heard grunting after they have been galloping hard. If a herd is spooked and decides to run to safety they will make a series of grunts while catching their breath.

What Is An Elk “Glunk”

A glunk is another sound that bull elk make during the rut. It is a series of deep bass-like tones that are used to locate nearby groups of cows, also known as harems. Even if you can’t see any cow elk in the area, glunking is a sure-fire way to indicate that they are indeed near.

Do Elk Chirp?

Chirping is made by both bull and cow elk alike, though it doesn’t sound like the type of chirp you would hear from a bird. It is less like a call and more of a communal sound made when a herd is grazing. Similar to the sound of overlapping conversations in a crowded area that can be heard from humans.

If you can hear chirping then there is a good chance that a herd of happy elk is grazing nearby.

What Is An Elk “Mew”

A mew is a high-pitched sound, similar to a cry, that can have many different meanings and is primarily utilized by cow elk and calves as a form of maternal communication.

Mewing is frequently used by calves who are scared and separated from their mothers, though it can also be heard from calves who are frolicking and playing as well.

Cow elk and calves will mew back and forth, sort of like a game of marco polo, in order to find each other.

Do Elk Scream? 

Various elk calls can sound like a scream to the untrained ear. High-pitched mews from a lost calf can sound like a scream, bugling sounds like a scream from a bull elk, and cows have their own special type of mating scream known as an estrous scream or whine.

What Is An Estrus Scream?

An estrus scream is a sound made by cow elk during the rut. It sounds similar to a bugle, but with a higher pitch and shorter duration.  This notifies nearby bulls that the cow is ready to find a mate.

Do Elk Make Barking Sounds?

Yes, but they don’t sound like the bark that a dog makes, an elk’s bark is much louder and higher pitched.  

It is used to alert the herd that danger may be nearby. If you hear this sound, then there is a good chance that the herd has detected you or a nearby predator, and the ground will most likely begin to rumble and quake as the herd takes off running for safety.

Do Elk Have Specific Mating Calls And Sounds?

Bull elk utilize bugling, glunking, and chuckling specifically during the rut when searching for a mate. Cow elk will respond with an estrus scream to let nearby bulls know that they are ready to mate. These calls are like two pieces of a puzzle, one signifies to the other that they are looking to mate. 

Do Bull and Cow Elk Make Different Sounds?

Though bull and cow elk make many of the same sounds, a few are specific to the elk’s sex.  

It would be very rare to ever hear a cow elk bugling, chuckling, or glunking, just like you would be hard-pressed to find a bull elk making an estrous scream. Yes, all of these are used in mating but they are reserved for the specific sex of the elk based on its role in the mating ritual.

A cow elk wouldn’t gain anything by bugling because it would signify that surrounding bull elk might have to assert their dominance over a potential challenger.

This goes the same for bull elk, an estrous scream would just attract other bull elk which would diminish his chances of finding a mate.

Do Elk Make Sounds That Are Not Related To Mating?

While bugling, glunking, chuckling, and estrous screams are associated with the mating season, there are plenty of sounds that are used year-round in other situations.

Elk will use all of the vocalizations in their repertoire to communicate with each other. Barks is the elk’s version of an alarm, chirps and mews are used to communicate socially, and grunting can simply mean that an elk is just plain worn out.

What Sounds Do Elk Calves Make?

Elk calves sound similar to cow elk, only with a much higher-pitched tone. These sounds are known as mews or chirps. Generally, a calf will let out a long high pitched mew when it is in distress, this could be from the presence of a predator or simply because the calf is lost and is looking for its mother.

If you are out hiking in the spring, when calves are still very young, and you hear this distress whine from a calf it would be a good idea to leave the area or head in the other direction. Elk aren’t considered dangerous or aggressive creatures, but it is never a good idea to get in between a distressed animal and its mother.

What Does An Angry Elk Sound Like?

An angry elk can sometimes sound like a large house cat, bobcat, or mountain lion.  

Bull elk will hiss at other bulls that are too close to their haram. They can also be seen pounding, or stomping, their hooves on the ground to get their point across.  

Cow elk will hiss at anything that they perceive to be a threat to their calves. If you ever find yourself close enough to an elk to have it hiss at you, it means you are too close. You should slowly exit the area to avoid distressing the animal any further.

What Sounds Does An Elk Make When Scared?

Adult elk will bark loudly when they are alarmed both as a reaction to being startled or to alert the herd of a potential threat. 

They can also hiss when they are scared. Hissing is commonly associated with an angry elk, but these two emotions go hand in hand because predators can be lurking just about anywhere in the wild. 

Calves will let out a long and high-pitched mew when they are scared. This will alert cow elk in the area and spur them to mew back in order to find the lost calf.

What Other Animals Sound Like Elk?

Surprisingly the animals that get most confused with elk in relation to their sound, are birds. Common species like the Canada Jay and the Northern Flicker can make loud high pitched chirps that resemble an elk’s bark or bugle off in the distance.

Some hikers have reported that they have confused the distress hiss of an elk with that of a predatory cat. Talk about a scary situation!

How Do Elk Sound Differently Than Caribou, Deer, And Reindeer?

Elk definitely have their own distinct sound that can be distinguished from other species in the deer family.

Deer are much quieter creatures than elk. When they vocalize they tend to make higher-pitched squeals or bleats, similar to that of a goat. Female deer sounds can sometimes be confused with calf elk mews for this reason.

Like deer, caribou or reindeer are much more silent than elk. They do not use vocalization like elk do. Caribou can be identified by the clicking noise emitted from their hooves. The sound is actually a tendon in the foot that rolls over the bone when they walk.

How Far Away Can You Hear An Elk From?

Depending on the type of call and the local topography, you can hear elk from many miles away. 

Bugling is the loudest sound that elk make and bull elk are the largest specimens, so they can be heard all throughout their habitat, especially during the fall.

Barking is another sound that can be heard from a moderate distance since it is used to alert an entire herd of an incoming threat.  

Most other sounds don’t carry as far because they are meant to communicate with members of their herd who are in close proximity.  

What Does It Mean If Elks Don’t Make Any Sound At All?

If an elk is silent it can mean a variety of different things. If elk are content grazing they tend to be quiet, outside of the occasional chirp to other members of the herd.  Silence can also mean they are busy listening to their surroundings, like when they sense danger.

Combining an elk’s body language with the sounds they are or aren’t making is an effective way to get inside their heads and figure out what they are thinking.

Can You Imitate The Elk’s Sounds To Attract It?

Absolutely! Imitating elk calls is a practice that hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts have popularized. Special calls can be bought to mimic bulls, cows, or calves in order to attract members of nearby herds.

Using a call that imitates a cow’s estrous whine is used to attract bull elk during the rut, tricking the bull into thinking there is a lone cow that is ready to mate.  

Using a bugle call is used to attract other bulls or cows. Bugling can signal bull elk that there is another male elk in the area who might challenge him for his mates. It can also tell a cow elk that there is a bull nearby when she is ready to mate.

Calf mews and chirps can be utilized to attract cow elk, making them think that a calf is lost or in distress.