Bear sightings have filled local community Internet pages for the past few weeks, raising questions about keeping these large omnivores out of yards, away from our youngsters and pets and out of garbage bins. The good news is that some of the activity should subside over the next couple of weeks. Bears will still wander through neighborhoods, but the hormone-driven activity that recently put the bear world on the move will have subsided … for this spring.
From late May into late June is mating season for the American black bear. Consequently, mothers unceremoniously push 16-month-old cubs into independence so that they can find male companionship.
Young males over the age of four are on the move, seeking females in estrus (heat). Older dominant males cruise far and wide hoping to win the favor of a chosen female. Mothers with cubs born this January are on constant alert and keeping their four-month-old cubs out of the fray. Those yearlings mom chased up a tree? They’re running around confused and scared. It’s the time of year when bears are constantly on the move.
Mating pairs move around the female’s range until she accepts his advances. This can take several days, and she may repeat the mating dance with another male when her first suitor moves on. A female’s feeding range usually encompasses five to seven square miles and several neighborhoods. She continues to forage to maintain her weight — he eats very little and may lose 20 percent of his weight during mating season.
Once she has mated, the female is a loner spending the summer seeking high-quality food such as berries, nuts, apples, ground-bees’ nests, insect larvae dug from rotting logs and, if available, bird seed and an occasional picnic from a garbage bin. She must gain sufficient weight to deliver healthy cubs in January and sustain them over the winter.
Her fertilized eggs, called blastocysts, do not implant until the beginning of denning season, a process called delayed implantation. After approximately eight weeks of development, tiny hairless, blind cubs the size of a stick of butter are born in mid- to late-January. Her fat-rich milk provides the nutrition her cubs need to develop into the 4- to 10-pound toddlers that will emerge from the den in April.
She travels her range showing them where to find food, water and trees that provide safe haven and a bed at night. She may leave them napping high in a white pine and forage on her own for a few hours. The cubs may nurse through the summer, growing to 30-40 pounds before denning with her in November. They remain with her the following spring until she forcibly sends them on their way. Young females often take up residence on part of mom’s range, but yearling males may travel 100 miles or more searching for their own spot in the world. The two-year cycle begins again.
Keeping these visitors out of your yard requires management of garbage and recycling by keeping it locked in a shed or the garage and taking the bins to the curb the morning of pickup after dousing them with ammonia or bleach. Bringing in your bird feeder or hanging it out of reach is also suggested if you don’t want company.
Talk to yourself when in the yard alone. Keep noisemakers close to the door and a large leaf bag to vigorously wave to fill it with air and snap loudly—a hint from a professional bear rehabber.
Teach youngsters to be bear-aware and to never, ever run from a bear. Slowly walk backwards to the nearest door and talk loudly telling the bear to “Go Away Bear.” Yell, wave, extend your arms to look larger and move away being sure to leave the bear —and any cubs —an obvious escape route.
Keep your dog on leash when walking on trails or in the neighborhood. Often bear encounters that result in human contact involve an unleashed dog approaching the bear or leading a bear back to its human. Walk with a companion and carry bear spray.
Learn more about these intelligent, curious animals on the Internet or from books available on Amazon that offer experienced advice on living with black bears. Also learn about rehabbing cubs and yearlings orphaned or injured as a result of accidents or hunting. Many websites offer education opportunities, photos and video.
Sightings of bears should be reported directly to the DEEP at 860-424-3333. This helps the DEEP in tracking bears that might become a nuisance. Only situations where the animal might place persons at imminent risk need be reported to the police department.
The Connecticut DEEP site gives excellent advice on bear-proofing your home and yard.
DO make bird feeders and bird food inaccessible by not feeding birds from late March through November.
DO clean and store grills away after use.
DO eliminate food attractants by placing garbage bins inside a garage or shed. Add ammonia to trash to make it unpalatable.
DO delay taking your trash and recycle bins to the curb until the morning of pickup.
DON’T intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near your home may become “problem” bears.
DON’T leave pet food outside overnight.
DON’T add meat, sweets, gravy or sauces to a compost pile
Living With Bears; A Practical Guide to Bear Country, Linda Masterson (a must read!)
Among the Bears, Benjamin Kilham and Ed Gray
Research and published papers by Dr. Lynn Rogers at the Wildlife Research Institute, Ely, MN
Research and Rehabilitation website:
Mike McIntosh at Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center for Bears
Bear Smart Website: bearsmart.com
Bear Smart website behavior page: bearsmart.com/about-bears/behaviour/
Get Bear Smart Organization: