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Black Bears Still Active

12-15-14  bear track in snow 049A7902While some, perhaps most, black bears have entered hibernation in northern New England by now, there are still some active individuals, probably males, who are finding enough food to delay denning. Typically a scarcity of food and cold weather trigger the reduction in the metabolism of a black bear, which signals the onset of hibernation. If the weather remains relatively warm and/or there is a large supply of beechnuts and/or acorns, signs of bears can occasionally be found even this late in the year. While there have been a few years when black bears have been sighted throughout the winter, most wildlife biologists say that it is safe to put up bird feeders in December, as sunflower seed-loving bears have usually retreated to their den sites by now. The pictured tracks and scat discovered in the past few days in central Vermont challenges that assumption (as does the stolen bird feeder). (Thanks to Erin Donahue and Charlie Berger for photo op – sensitive fern fertile frond for size comparison)

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11 responses

  1. A question: Do black bears truly hibernate? I thought I had heard that, according to technical criteria, the low-metabolism state they enter in winter is classified as prolonged sleep rather than true hibernation?

    December 15, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    • Hi Wendy,
      You are right to be wondering…it all depends on how you define “hibernation.” Here’s what I found on bear.org:

      “When people defined hibernation simply in terms of temperature reduction, bears were not considered hibernators. However, when biologists discovered the many metabolic changes that let black and grizzly bears hibernate up to 7 ½ months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating, they realized that body temperature was only a small part of hibernation.

      They redefined mammalian hibernation as a specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism concurrent with scarce food and cold weather (Watts et al. 1981). “

      December 15, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      • Thanks so much for the clarification, Mary. I believe the criteria I recalled were primarily focused on body temperature; I wasn’t aware that the criteria had evolved. The newer definition you provide above seems better than reducing hibernation to a single measurement.

        December 15, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    • eleanor arkowitz

      it is dec 29 and mother bear and three cubs are still hanging about. last sighted near the hanover/leb line off rte 10. just a week before in the brockway road neighborhood near the high school. plenty of hungry birds but i don’t dare put out food. bears have been sighted around 4:30 pm till 6:30pm. when will they leave or do we have to feed them some ambien in order to rid them of their insomnia

      December 31, 2014 at 1:31 am

      • I thought you were in Hartland, VT, but see you’re in NH. If this cold weather lasts, the bears should disappear soon (and go into hibernation). Best to take in feeders until we know the warmer weather is a thing of the past!

        December 31, 2014 at 2:11 am

  2. Helen Gingras

    Hello Mary,
    In the last few days I have seen some wonderful, fresh bear tracks high up on Mt. Israel.in Center Sandwich.
    The first set were quite large,the new ones that I saw two days ago were less than six inches. I got some nice pictures of both sets.

    December 15, 2014 at 8:58 pm

  3. I saw tracks of a young bear a week ago here in western MA, but not since. Luckily, it didn’t bother our feeders!

    December 15, 2014 at 11:44 pm

  4. Sorry to tell you all, but two days ago (13 December 2014) a bear tore a hole in my 8 foot deer fence, entered, came up on the deck (about 50 feet from the entry-point), must have sniffed the black-oil seeds in the feeders but, instead, took away the sealed plastic container holding my bird seed, The bear left the container plus seed all over the place at the entry-point, exited, then spewed a $15 bag of thistle all over the place just outside the fence.I repaired the fence with tie wraps. Then last night the bear broke through the tie wraps, entered again, wandered about but finding no black oil seeds it left . . . tracks all over the back yard. I have photos but not of the bear. Bummer. Fish and Game may be hearing from me if this continues. (West Lebanon close to the Hanover town line).

    December 16, 2014 at 12:29 am

    • JL

      Gezeer – How about taking your feeders down and removing your birdfood containers from the porch before calling fish and wildlife? In a month or so, put them back up. Fellow up my way did what you said you were going to do and the F&W shot the bear.

      December 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      • Wise advice, Josh.

        December 16, 2014 at 10:39 pm

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