Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) in Eastern Oregon. Top: male; bottom: two females in “confuse them with camo” stance.
“Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo bison roam! And the deer and the antelope pronghorn play!”
We’ll circle back to bison one day. For now, let’s meet the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), who are very much not antelope.
Pronghorns are the sole modern member of the Antilocapridae family. They are quite literally in a class all their own.
It’s okay to call pronghorn “pronghorn antelope,” most everyone does, but knowing they are not antelope may help you win a bar bet someday.
However, it can safely be argued that their other common name “Prairie Ghost” is the very best moniker option.
Pronghorn can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, can sustain a run of 30 – 40 miles per hour and can make jumps of 20 linear feet mid-run. Like ghosts, they can vanish in the blink of an eye.
Their “blend in with the arid habitat” camouflage and penchant for standing in visually confusing formations (see photo) make them more ghostly still.
Fun fact: Modern pronghorn no longer have a literal “need for speed” as they can easily outrun all remaining predators. They evolved their fleetness ages ago when the North American cheetahs were still alive and sprinting.
In addition to speed and camo, pronghorns have a few more predator evasion features. They have oversized hearts and lungs so they can take deep breaths for those sprints. Their hooves have spring-like pads to navigate rocky terrain and those large eyes allow them to see far off predators approaching. How far? Up to four miles away. They will absolutely spot you as you (safely) pull over to the side of the road to observe them.
There are approximately 25,000 pronghorns in Oregon. If you’d like to see one, you’ll need to head east to Oregon’s sagebrush steppe. Our pronghorns need sagebrush to survive, making them a sagebrush “obligate” species. They can be found in areas with sagebrush and intermittent lakes.
Pronghorns are delicate ungulates, ranging in size from three to five feet and weighing in between 70 and 150 pounds.
Fun facts about pronghorn horns: Both male and female pronghorn may have horns (versus antlers). Females who have them will have small nubby horns, while males sport the quintessential three-to-four-inch, spikier horns.
The horns have a bony core covered with protective keratin. Pronghorns are the only branched horned animal and the only animal who sheds their horns. In part, anyway. The keratin coating falls off in autumn and regrows in summer.
If you’re lucky enough to spot pronghorns as you drive Oregon’s Outback highways, how many you spot depends on the time of year. In summertime they chill in small bands consisting mostly of mothers and young pronghorns.
Female pronghorns spend the winter months gestating their babies who will be born in early spring. A pronghorn doe will give birth to a single fawn or twins. Baby pronghorns can stand the day they are born but are still weak and need the protection of those female herds.
Young bucks – those under two years of age – will also gather in small “bachelor” herds. Adult males live the solo life in established territories.
Come winter everyone bands together and can form herds numbering in the hundreds. Quite a sight to see.