With the Spring Equinox just a few days away, black bears and their cubs are emerging from hibernation. They are hungry and starting to forage for food, not only in their natural habitat but in our own back yards especially around our bird feeders, trash cans and outdoor barbeque areas.
Because sightings of Black bears have increased in recent years in our area, it is helpful to learn how to live with these animals. Understanding bear behavior was the topic of a talk by Felicia Ortner, Connecticut Master Wildlife Conservationist (MWC) hosted by Friend of the Great Swamp (FRoGs), at Trinity Pawling School on March 15.
“If we understand how and why bears behave they way they do, we can learn to respect these animals instead of fearing them,” said Ms. Ortner. “It is critical for people not to knowingly feed bears and not to leave food outside that can attract them, even such as fruit in compost heaps.
Although bears are generally timid and afraid of humans, the cubs can be curious. In the event that a bear is spotted, one should try to stay further than 150 feet away from the animal and make loud noises to scare it away. But because they can be easily frightened if one comes upon them in the woods, it is a good idea to carry pepper spray, which definitely will keep them away.
When bears become a problem in corn fields or around bee hives, other more aggressive methods such as rubber bullets have been used to trin them to avoid humans. Only as a last resort are bears relocated. However, because bears have a good homing instinct and great memories they often find their way back.
Since 1900 only been 66 humans have been killed by bears in the U.S. said Ms. Ortner. Bears can move at 30 mph. Theur claws which are designed for digging and climbing are not sharp like those of large feline predators.
Black bear populations have been steadily increasing in the Northeast since the 1970’s due to reforestation, especially of nut trees that provide vital food. They also eat berries, honey, bark, plant life and insects and, occasionally small amphibians. They consume up to 8,000 calories a day during the summer and 21,000 a day just before they go into semi-hibernation when their metabolism slows down. Because they neither eat, drink or produce waste during the four winter months, they can lose up to 40 percent. of their body weight.
The cubs and are born during January and February in dens, under fallen trees, underground or in caves. The females wake up long enough to give birth and let their cubs nurse. Bear milk is very rich in fat, around 40%, and sustains the cubs throughout their first summer. After seventeen months the yearlings are forced to go off on their own and establish their own territories.
Ms. Ortner said it is a fallacy that female bears will attack a human who comes near their cub. If the human makes noise and scares them away, both the mother and cub will run off in different directions.
The key to safety around bears is to keep campsites and garbage areas clean and dispose of all waste properly. Bird feeders should be put away in the Spring. When hiking in the woods it is important to stay alert, make a noise, carry a deterrent and if possible, travel in groups. Bear scat, scratch marks on trees with hair in them and large tracks with five toes indicate that bears are in the vicinity.
Defensive bears warn by clacking their teeth. They will often lunge which is a sign you need to increase your distance and let the bear know you are there.