In a couple weeks, high-pitched screeching accompanied by trailing grunts will dominate the sounds of the Colorado landscape. While these strange noises can be a bit startling to the unexpecting passerby, they're totally normal and a natural part of a Colorado fall.
The screams come from Colorado's elk population as the species enters a phase of year best known as 'rut season.' During this time, male elk produce a noise called a 'bugle,' meant to attract potential mates. Larger, more mature bull elk tend to gather cow elk by the dozen, increasing their chances of passing on their genes.
But don't expect this time of the year to be drama-free. Bull elk must defend their harem of cow elk by fighting off other competition with their large antlers. This sparring is an aggressive show of power, often with bloody and sometimes fatal consequences for those involved.
In general, elk rut takes place in mid-September and lasts for about a month. During this time, elk can be especially defensive of their territory, making it crucial to give these wild animals ample space when they're encountered.
And don't expect these animals to keep their distance from civilization – one of the best places to find them during 'rut season' is in the heart of Estes Park, Colorado. Each fall, large numbers of this massive cervid species descend into the city from nearby mountains, commonly seen on sidewalks, lawns, and golf courses around town – even using crosswalks at times.
As could be expected, the natural spectacle attracts hoards of tourists to this northern Colorado city, found on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. As leaves start to change and wildlife floods the streets, it's hard to imagine a more picturesque Colorado scene.
If you plan to visit Estes Park to see the spectacle, keep at least 75 feet of distance between yourself and these powerful animals – that's about two school buses. This should be done for safety reasons, but also to avoid interfering with natural elk behavior. If an elk starts to walk your way, move. Never assume an animal is being friendly and never attempt to feed or pet an animal – that's how people end up getting gored.
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