Into The Outdoors - Bears


With folks once again putting up bird feeders, it might be a good time to take a little look at bears. You’ll see the connection shortly.

As I usually do when I need nature information fast, I consulted my old friend Dave Lewis. He has a lot of expertise when it comes to bears. He has studied the bruins extensively. In the fall, the black bear will eat 20 to 25 thousand calories per day in preparation for their period of dormancy. The construction of their digestive tract minimizes the need to chew their food. They really like things like acorns, nuts, apples, pears, berries and, to the dismay of farmers, agricultural crops. As it gets closer to winter, however, they will eat whatever they can find, and go dormant when the food supply is exhausted. It should be noted that male bears are known as boars, and the females as sows. Pregnant sows will have picked out a den by the middle of November. The cubs are tiny when born, weighing only about twelve ounces. Because of this, it takes two seasons to raise the cubs, rather than one like, say, whitetail deer. When the cubs come out in early spring, the mother begins teaching them how to survive.

A sow reaches sexual maturity between three and four years of age. About half of the sow population enters the autumn pregnant. The other half is still busy raising their cubs. In the past, bear season started the week of Thanksgiving, when the bred sows were safely denned up. Now, with expanded bear seasons, pregnant sows are vulnerable. It should be noted that if a bred female is killed, not only will she be killed, but anywhere from one to five cubs that she carries would be killed as well. Before they den up in November, there is no way for a hunter to tell if a sow was carrying cubs.

All of this, of course, begs the question of whether or not the early bear seasons are a good idea. The evidence would seem to say that they are not. If the goal is to reduce bear populations, then it will probably work. Also, an increase in the number of bear licenses purchased will result in a financial gain for the Game Commission. That, of course, will diminish as bear populations go down, along with the likelihood of a successful hunt.

Hunters are not the only threat to the bear population. A major threat lies with mange. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the bruins to survive in the cold weather. In Dave’s photos, you see a healthy bear and one with mange. It is not at all hard to tell which is which.

As I have stated a number of times, I do not hunt bear. Bear meat is one of the worst meats I have ever eaten. The only way I have ever found it palatable is in chili, and that wasn’t all that great.

Now, what does all of this have to do with bird feeders? Well, it is really pretty simple. As a bear’s food supply dwindles, it will get bolder in its search. Given their extreme sense of smell, they can easily detect the food in a bird feeder. Sunflower seeds, suet, etc. are bound to be pretty appealing to the critters. We have all heard the old expression “hungry as a bear.” It is exceptionally appropriate at this time of year.

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