Silvercore Outdoors black bear
Apr 22, 2024
Information & Education

BEAR BEHAVIOR AFTER HIBERNATION

Bears live in a world similar to the 1993 motion picture Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. Each year presents similar repeat patterns for bears that consist of sleeping, waking, feeding, breeding, more feeding, and finally denning up for another winter of hibernation. Now that we are in the spring months and with bear season on the doorstep, it is important to understand what bears do once they wake up for the spring. On this episode of Korth Group Outdoor Education we will take you through some of the behaviours and patterns that primarily black bears experience after their winter slumber.  

During the winter months, bears spend their time denned up and in a state of “torpor”, which is commonly referred to as hibernation. As the weather starts warming up and the melting occurs these dens start to fill up with moisture and run off acting as alarm clocks for the bears. This typically takes place in the second to third week of April depending on the geographical location of the den as dens on south facing slopes are going to experience more sun, warmth, and melting when compared to north facing dens. North facing dens or dens that are in heavy timber that do not experience as much sunlight could add a couple more weeks onto a bear’s sleeping schedule as a result. Naturally though, bears will start to emerge no later than the middle of May just to simply start looking for food to replenish their nutrients and caloric intake.

Males tend to be the first ones to show themselves after hibernation with females and cubs to follow. Once out of their dens they particularly have one thing on their mind, find food. They have gone months without eating and their internal fat storage is next to depleted. For them to get their energy up they need to seek out high nutrient, rich in calorie food sources. Bears are scavenging omnivores. They are members of the pig family and will eat essentially anything. In early spring bears tend to migrate to the following areas in search of food:

South Facing Slopes
These areas obtain the most sunlight and therefore are the first to present green grass, orchids, mushrooms, horse tail shoots, soft moist roots, and dandelions. The nutrients and fiber within this vegetation helps bears digestive systems clean out and kick start from months of inactivity. The south facing slopes will provide bears with a buffet of nutrient dense food all while they can sit and bask in the spring sun.

Roadside Ditches and Avalanche Shoots
These areas are primarily a fan favorite spot for Grizzly Bears as the roadsides would be places where roadkill carcasses would be present for an easy meal. Avalanche shoots would offer similar opportunities as sheep and mountain goats tend to get caught in avalanches throughout the winter. As the snow melts in the spring, it uncovers the expired animals as nutritious opportunities for Bears to seek out. Unlike vegetation, this provides Bears with a source of protein that they didn’t have to take down themselves.

Ant Hills and Grub Sources
Both Black and Grizzly Bears show interest in simple protein opportunities like ant hills and grub colonies. Typically, you can find ant hills that have been disturbed or fallen dead logs turned over as they attempt to fill up on the small protein sources. Seeing this is solid evidence that a bear is in the area or has passed through. The Army Cutworm Moth is a chosen favorite for Grizzly Bears due to its very high caloric and protein value.

As the month of June hits and the bears have replenished their calories, they will begin to start looking to breed. Females, or sows, enter their state of estrus and typically stick to a specific territory/area with their cubs. Sows can have cubs with them up to a year and a half after giving birth until they move them on to independence. This is specific to Black Bears as Grizzly Bears take much longer to reach breeding age or status again. Males, or boars, on the other hand will travel dozens of miles in search of sows to bread. Boars have even been known to kill yearling cubs that are still with the sow just to force the female back into estrus so she can be bred again.

As spring progresses into summer and then into fall bears focus their attention onto high sugar content food like berries and honey. This grows their fat reserves and gets them prepared for winter hibernation once again.

Sources/Credits
PBS Nature Blog. Black Bear Fact Sheet,
https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/blog/black-bear-fact-sheet/, April 30, 2024.

For more information about bear behaviour, avoidance strategies and how to stay safe in bear country, please check out Silvercore's online Bear Defence course as well as Silvercore's Live Fire Bear & Wildlife Defence course.

To find out more about Korth Group, check out their website or watch the Silvercore Podcast with Korth Group staff member and passionate hunter and conservationist, Matt Siemens below.

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