Monday, July 30, 2012

Mountain Goats of Montana

I can't believe it's been five years since we've seen the Mountain Goats in Glacier (Glacier)National Park, up in Northwest Montana (Montana). We returned a few years ago, but we were fogged out. It was a good year for snow cover, but wildlife viewing was limited.

Mountain Goats molt (shed some hair) beginning in the spring, so this shaggy appearance is normal.

This one is probably still up there, because their lifespan is about 12-15 years in the wild.

These are not Rocky Mountain Sheep, which have a longer, brownish body; are heavier; with massive, spiralling, horns.

Mountain Goats are white, with a coat of long, relatively coarse hair. The dense, woolly undercoat is covered by an outer layer of hollow hairs; both providing warmth and insulation from the cold of their high elevation habitat.

Five species and subspecies range through the Rocky Mountains and coast ranges from Alaska south to Montana and Idaho. They are limited largely to national parks.

They range high in the summer, low in the winter; primarily in alpine and sub alpine habitats, but almost always above treeline.

Here's a good look at the horns, which are 6" to 11" long (15-28cm). Both males and females have horns, and are slightly longer on the males. A closer look would reveal annual growth rings. Both sexes and the young are colored alike.

Length: up to 5.5 feet, (165cm) including a 6.5 inch tail (165mm).
Height: at the shoulder 3 - 3.5 feet (91-107cm)
Weight: 100 - 300 pounds (45-135 kg)

Their habitat is rocky crags near the snowline. On steep slopes and benches along cliffs; usually at or above timberline. Look! I see some coming now. From up on that rocky crag. No way they can get down that nearly vertical stone wall!

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Mountain Goats are superior climbers and jumpers. Sure-footed at all times in steep, rocky slopes up to 60* pitch. The hard, cloven hooves can be spread apart as needed, and the inner pads provide traction.

OMG ! Did you see that? What a jump! Superior climbers? Oh yeah!

These mammals are primarily diurnal (active during the day). Usually seen in groups of fewer than ten. Part grazer and part browser. They feed on various mountain vegetation: grasses, herbs, sedges, ferns, moss, lichen, twigs and needles from low-growing shrubs and conifers that grow in their high mountain habitat.

Their territory is about 3 - 6 miles (4.8-9.6km) across.

Down they come. How many adults do you see? How many kids? The mother goat often feeds below the kid, to possibly stop it if the kid begins to fall.

Mountain Goats can first breed at 2 1/2 years of age. Breeding season is October to December. The young are born six months after breeding; usually May to June. Usually a single kid, occasionally two. The kids can run and attempt to climb mere hours after they're born. The kids weigh seven pounds (3kg) at birth, are weaned in one month, but follow the mother and the small herd for one year.

 That is some serious rock climbing going on up there.


Mountain Lions, wolves, foxes, and Golden Eagles sometimes take young kids. Mountain Goats usually move slowly, but when danger threatens, they rapidly scale difficult rock faces, reaching nooks and crannies that are inaccessible to predators.

The chief cause of death is actually from avalanches.

It was easy for this kid, born in the spring, to spring up onto this giant boulder. Isn't he cute?

This one has a nice white coat, and a bit of a beard. If you get this close, please do not feed them. They are wild. Please do your part to keep them wild.

This sure-footed creature of the mountains is probably checking out this Subaru (Subaru); a sure-footed vehicle in the mountains. It's a favorite of the many people fortunate to be living in the Rocky Mountain West.

Are you getting the urge to visit NW Montana? Remember, it's high elevation on the "Going-to-the-Sun Road" (Sun), and comfortably cool in Glacier National Park.

If you go, bring your coats. And say "Hi" to the Mountain Goats.

Mountain Goat - Oreamnos americanus

Photo LocationGlacier National Park - Montana 


Peterson Field Guide to the Mammals (Peterson)

Fieldbook of Natural History by E. Laurence Palmer (Palmer) c 1949