Learned behavior

This week was an interesting one on the Wyoming rangelands. The sage grouse broods are doing well, with the now adolescent-sized birds that accompanying their mothers. Most of the broods I’ve seen have five or six young, so it’s been a good year for chick production.

The pronghorn antelope fawns are growing as well, but their long legs look out of proportion with their young bodies at this stage of growth. Three times this week I’ve watched pronghorns jumping over a woven-wire fence, something that supposedly happens only rarely since pronghorn prefer to go under fences. The first time Jim and I witnessed this, we were driving near the allotment fence when I noticed a line of pronghorn trailing along the far side of the fence. When the group approached a low spot in the woven-wire, the first doe jumped the fence and cleared it. I realized the rest of the herd might follow, so I stopped to watch as the next two does took their turns, easily clearing the wire. The fawns did not follow, and at that point, our presence was noticed and the animals hurried away from the fenceline.

On Friday, I saw a pronghorn doe and her two fawns near the same fence again, and watched as the doe jumped over the fence in the same spot. I was running late, and didn’t have time to stop and watch the behavior of the rest of the herd.

On Saturday morning, I went back by the fence again, and this time saw one doe with three fawns. By the time I arrived, one fawn was on my side of the fence, with the remainder of the group on the far side. Hoping not to disturb them, I parked the truck at some distance from the group and sat and watched. After a few minutes of staring in my direction, the doe finally moved forward, jumping the fence. She patiently waited as the other two fawns nervously milled and finally jumped single-file over the fence to join her and the third fawn as they moved away.

This was an excellent lesson in learned behavior, and gives me hope for the ability of this species to adapt to human changes in its environment.

3 thoughts on “Learned behavior”

  1. When I was younger I was informed that pronghorn will not jump wire fences, much to their detriment, but would only wriggle under the bottom strand–if there was room.

    But I have seen some of them doing it, so I too hope that they can learn the behavior and pass it along.

  2. I lived in Idaho for 5 or 6 years while I went to undergrad school. I spent most of my summers in the Salmon area where there were a lot of antelope. Often right outside my door.

    I saw them go through wire fences lots of times but it seems to me that they usually went over the bottom wire – though this was 25-30 years ago.

    Either way, I'm glad they're learning to go over mesh.

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