By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education
With snow falling on the ground it was difficult to write about a spring phenological observation. This morning when I awoke to several inches of snow on the ground, I discovered a thief that had been by the house during the night. My fiance has a 1974 Classic Plymouth Duster, a very nice looking car. Having just taken it out of winter storage, he had covered it with a rather pricey car cover. This morning the car cover was gone, completely out of sight. Upon much inspection, we discovered the culprit – a black bear. It would have been unbelievable had I not seen the bear tracks with my very own eyes. Or have seen the tooth or claw marks in the car cover. What could that black bear have wanted with a car cover? Good protection from the snow, the very thing we were protecting the car from? Food? My theory is that this made in China car cover perhaps was made using “waterproof” fish oil, and the bear caught the scent and was hoping for a fish meal. I guess we’ll never know what was in this bear’s mind, but it made for a very comical morning. What do bears eat in the spring, anyway?
When black bears emerge from their dens in mid-March, they recover near the den as their metabolism revs up again. During this time their fur looks healthy, but soon they shed their winter coat. When their digestive system is ready to go, black bears will begin foraging to replace lost calories from the long winter without food. Bears, especially the males, will travel long distances in the spring to find food. Males home range can be fifteen to twenty-seven square miles, while females usually maintain a five-square mile area. If food is scarce, bears will wander farther from their territory looking for food, and may extend their feeding hours into the daylight. In mid-May, the breeding season begins, and the males will start roaming greater distances.
If a sow gives birth during January or February, her cubs will stay with her 18-24 months. She communicates with her cubs using her voice that includes “woof” and whimpering sounds.
Black bears locate their food by relying on their amazing sense of smell. A black bear can smell a candy bar from two miles away. They feed mostly from evening twilight until sunrise. In early spring when plants are still dormant, bears will rely on small mammals or carrion for their food. They will also rip open rotten logs or anthills to feed on the insects, both eggs and larvae that are found inside. As plants begin to sprout, black bears will switch to up to 40 different types of plants. They will also eat last year’s berry crop, tubers, acorns, nuts, mice, squirrels, or beetles. Bears molars are flattened for grinding and chewing plant food instead of slicing through meat.
Missing car covers, tracks in the snow, or disappearing bird feeders are not the only signs to look for of bears. Their scat filled with digested plants or seeds is very noticeable. Even as I write this, I continue to ponder and smile at our morning visitor, wondering just what it wanted with the car cover. Please send your own black bear stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a comment on the Museum’s Nature Watch blog, cablemuseumnaturewatch.blogspot.com.
For over 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs.