Bears on My Mind

By Sarah W.

Black Bears (Ursus americanus) range throughout this continent. They’re in Canada, Mexico, and the US – in the eastern and western states, and scattered about the middle of the country. Contrary to their name, they range in color from almost white to cinnamon to black. They did not cross the land/ice bridge from Asia, but evolved in North America. This has been their home for about 4 million years! We human immigrants only arrived maybe 20,000 years ago (take or leave a few thousand).
Black bears have been foraging around our woods since March, when they left their winter dens. They’re omnivores, eating everything from skunk cabbage to leaves to nuts, berries, grubs, and (sad to say) the occasional fawn.

But to the cute part – baby bears (whose antics are endlessly entertaining). Every other year in January, females (sows) give birth in the den to 8 ounce cubs, numbering from one to six(!), but normally 2 or 3. The cubs usually stay with the mother for about 18 months; she shoos them away during mating season. Did I say every other year? In our area, there are at least 2 definite cases of mothers giving birth in 2 consecutive years. Almost unheard of, but according to experts, this could happen if the sow ‘loses’ her cubs. Losing could be from humans hunting them (yes, it’s legal to kill cubs), or a male bear killing them.

A myth about black bears is that they’re not sociable. They may not be party animals, but they’ll sometimes hang out together. Examples are older siblings or past mates. And here’s a bit of altruism: a mother bear will, temporarily or permanently, adopt a cub that has wandered from its birth mother.

Another myth is that black bears are scary monsters. Here’s my suggestion to dispel that idea: google the North American Bear Center in Ely Minnesota. I think you’ll be charmed by the facts and photos.

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