Elk eat a variety of foods depending on the season. Grasses, sedges, flowers and other soft plant foods compose their diet during summer months, while the growth of woody plants such as cedar and red maple make up their diet in winter. They also occasionally eat mushrooms.
Elk are ruminants, which means that to digest their tough foods, they must regurgitate and chew it again after it is ingested. This process is sometimes referred to as chewing cud.
Elk have a particular fondness for dandelions, aster, hawkweed, violets and clover when grazing in summer. In winter, favored woody plants include wintergreen, eastern hemlock, sumac, jack pine, staghorn and basswood.
Elk have good hearing, smell and vision to help them avoid predators and find food. They are very noisy and social, and they use all their senses, including touch, to communicate with other members of their herd. Herds during summer can contain as many as 400 elk. Herds are matriarchal, led by a single female, although males organize the females into harems during the mating season. They generally feed only at early morning and late evening and spend the rest of their time either sleeping or chewing cud.
As herbivores, elk are important prey animals for many predators. However, their large size, formidable hooves, movement in herds, and, on males, antlers, mean that few predators attack adults.