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Mountain goats near Smithers BC Canada

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Facts - Behaviour and Feed

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 Sight and sound

Newborn kids make a high-pitched mewing sound. We are told by the handlers at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve that adult mountain goats sometimes make the same mewing sound when bullied by a higher ranking member of the herd. Click to hear the sound of a mountain goat kid.

Mountain goats  rely on excellent eyesight to spot approaching predators. Their sense of smell and hearing may be good but  constant wind in the alpine interferes with smell and hearing and makes eyesight the most reliable sense.

Spotting predators

Mountain goats constantly scan their surroundings and watch others in the herd or group for signs that a predator or threat has been spotted. The herd will then assess the threat visually before moving to higher, safer ground. In summer, small neighbouring herds on a mountain may join to form a larger herd numbering 30 or more. The larger herd may feed 300 meters or more from escape terrain taking confidence in the ability of the large herd to spot approaching predators. Mountain goats defend themselves by fleeing to escape terrain but they can also use their sharp thin horns to fight off a predator if cornered.


Mountain goats depend on their agility on rocky cliffs to escape from predators. They are the ultimate climbers  in steep terrain, more adept than mountain sheep or any other ungulate.  The bodies of mountain goats are very deep at the chest when viewed from the side but very narrow when seen from the front. This small width across the shoulders allows them to walk on very narrow ledges. The front shoulders are very muscular and allow goats to pull themselves up onto a high ledge using the front legs. The distance between the front and hind legs is short and gives the goat the ability to turn around on very narrow ledges. The short legs and muscular shoulders are designed for climbing rather than speed.



Mountain goats  hunted by humans are very wary and will leave an area  if they spot a human within one kilometer. In contrast, goats that have not been hunted are very curious about a human. They will stand and watch to decide whether the stranger is a threat. If the threat seems minimal, the herd will often move upslope and closer to escape terrain but will stay within sight.

Feeding corridor

The main herd and the small band of mature males that accompany the main herd feed across meadows and ridges at or above timberline. They usually stay in a narrow feeding corridor within 100 m (110 yards) of steep rock cliffs that serve as escape terrain in the event of an attack by a predator. Occasionally they will wander as far as 400 m (440 yards) from escape terrain but the risk of predation is increased.


In summer, mountain goats feed on grasses, lichens, mosses, sedges and flowering plants. In winter, their diet also includes the needles and stems of Mountain Balsam, Hemlock  and other coniferous trees. Mountain goats are ruminants and  have four stomachs. Microbes in their stomachs to break down coarse plant material. They stop feeding and lay down to chew their cud at times through the day.


Mountain goats will paw at soft scree or sandy soil to create a shallow depression for a bed. A bed on a steep slope prevents the goat from sliding down the slope. Goats bed down several times a day to chew their cud.



Mountain goats in our area depend on wind in winter.  In the alpine, snowfall depth is normally six feet (182 cm) or more. The maximum depth that goats can paw to uncover feed in loose snow is 18 inches (45 cm). Wind can scour most of the loose powder snow until it is shallow enough for the goats to uncover feed.

In summer, goats move to a windy location to get away from mosquitoes, horseflies, blackflies and no-seeums.

Mineral licks

In spring and early summer, mountain goats need to consume calcium, manganese, phosphorus and sodium from natural mineral licks to aid in digestion of lush spring vegetation. The minerals at the licks may include zeolites formed in volcanic rock. Goats will travel up to ten kilometers through standing timber to reach mineral licks despite the risk of predation.

Staying cool

Mountain goats favour west or south-facing sunny slopes except on the hottest days of summer when they favour the shade and cool of high north slopes. In the middle of a hot day, goats may stretch out on a snow field to stay cool.


mountain goat agility
Agility on rock

agility on snow
Agility on snow

Fedding corridor for mountain goats
Mountain goat feeding corridor

mountain goat feed

Excellent mountain goat feed






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