Feeling Strong?

By BRUCE AUCHLY for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

Recently, I watched a Cooper’s hawk take off from a rural, gravel road, clutching a dead meadowlark in its talons.

An adult Cooper’s hawk might weigh 1 pound. An adult meadowlark probably tips the scale at 3 ounces.

To compare that to a human, a 200-pound person would have to lift almost 40 pounds, then run away. Extra points if you can fly.

Perhaps you are physically fit. Maybe you are the strongest at the gym, ran a marathon recently or reupped for advanced yoga classes. Isn’t it strange we do these activities to keep up our daily strength and stamina while some animals perform feats of strength daily just to survive?

Mule deer can easily bound up a steep hillside to escape danger. Photo courtesy of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

Take deer. To escape predators, a white-tailed deer can jump 8 feet. Remember that 5-foot deer fence you put around the vegetable garden? Nice try.

Mule deer don’t jump like whitetails as much as they can bound up, up and away. That allows them to scramble up a steep coulee or rocky slope to escape danger.

One record indicates they can bound as much as 28 feet in a single leap, though their jumps are usually shorter.

If you can jump that far in a single leap, you belong on the U.S. Olympic team.

Antelope are runners. Besides being just plain fun to watch, the species is compact, sturdy and fast. Brother are they fast.

Pronghorn have a top speed near 50 and can set their cruise control at 35 miles per hour. Drive that fast through town without stopping and prepare to find yourself in traffic court.

Mountain lions like many predators have tremendous strength. First, they can take down and kill prey larger than themselves, like an adult deer or full-grown elk.

Then, if they decide their quarry is in an inconvenient spot, they will drag it, using their teeth and jaws. To put numbers on that, consider a 100-pound lion killing a 100-pound deer and dragging it uphill for 50 yards or more.

A lion can do that because of the tremendous power in its jaws, its muscular rear legs are longer than its front legs and its long tail is used for balance.

Or a 500-pound grizzly bear killing a bull elk weighing at least 600 pounds, then dragging it more than 100 yards as if the carcass was just a bag of groceries.

Lions and grizzlies, however, are known for their strength. Nothing new here. Just as antelope are regularly seen running like a prairie wind.

It’s the strength and agility of smaller creatures that should surprise us.

Though a long-tailed weasel may only weigh a half a pound, it has the ability to take down and drag away prey up to six times its size. Photo courtesy of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

For example, look to the long-tailed weasel. While it is the largest of Montana’s three weasel species – least and short-tailed are the other two – a long-tailed male still only weighs about a half a pound.

Yet it will attack, kill and drag off a rabbit or hare, ranging in weight from a pound and a half to 3 pounds. You can do the math, but that’s impressive.

Technology gives us some advantages over wildlife. But when it comes to strength, agility and speed never bet against the animals.