Wild Creatures of the Scotchmans

All About Mountain Goats

by: Doug Ferrell

One hot day this summer, a party of hikers rested on some rocks just below the summit of Scotchman Peak. After they moved on up the trail, they watched mountain goats move in to lick the rocks where they had rested. This incident is not really as surprising as it might sound, because goats are famous for being fond of both salt and high places.

The herd of mountain goats that inhabit the Scotchman Peaks Proposed Wilderness Area is one of only two herds between Thompson Falls, Montana and Clark Fork, Idaho. the other herd is across the Bull River in the high country of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area.

Appearance & Diet

Mountain goats are stout bodied with muscular legs. Adults weigh between one and two hundred pounds. Their short, thick, white summer coat is replaced in winter by shaggy, dense, yellowish pelage. During spring, the molt makes these animals look extremely ragged. A small ridge of long, soft hair on their neck forms a hump. Black, slightly curved horns that average 8-10 inches long as well as a beard are present in both sexes. Their black eyes and nose contrast sharply with their white head.

Mountain goats have large oval hooves with an almost rubber-like sole that aids them in climbing steep rocks. They are renowned for their exceptional speed and agility in rugged terrain, and have been known to climb over 1500 vertical feet in just 20 minutes.

Their diet consists of grasses, woody plants, mosses, lichens, and herbaceous plants. They get most of their water from their food, or snowbanks. They may travel many miles in the spring to find mineral-rich salt licks.

Breeding & Courtship Rituals

Breeding season is from November to January. Goats engage in a courtship ritual that includes chasing, kicking with the front legs, and various vocalizations. Gestation is about 170 days and the 1- 3 kids are born in May or June. The female gives birth on the very steep cliffs of her home range to avoid predators. The young are mobile shortly after birth.

Mountain goat social interactions vary throughout the year. They tend to form large groups during the winter and at salt licks in the spring, but they form smaller groups or are solitary during the summer. The goats establish dominance hierarchies at a young age, by means of the kids’ playing behavior. Males are dominant during the breeding season, but the rest of the time the females and juveniles are dominant over the males. Prior to and during the breeding season, the males compete for females. They do not fight head to head, but rather stand side by side and stab at each other’s flanks. Thick skin in this area helps protect them from serious injury, but deaths have been reported from wounds to the chest, neck, or abdomen.

Mountain goats are considered highly vulnerable to disturbance when the kids are born in May and June, and also during the winter, when food supplies are low and just staying warm requires lots of energy.

We hope to protect this gorgeous slice of mountain goat habitat, both for the goats as well as for all people who love wild things.

Learn more about how you can help with out efforts of encouraging safe human – goat interactions in our wild backyard here.

This article was originally published as a two part series in our very first print newsletters in September & November 2005. 

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Categories: Blog, News
About The Author:

Rose wears many hats within FSPW as well as the greater Sandpoint community. You can find her working behind the scenes for the Friends, coaching kids mountain biking and nordic skiing, or out on the trail enjoying nature.

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