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Black Bear Diet

Acorns A Wildlife Magnet

Acorns are loaded with fats and carbohydrates, making them a perfect way for wildlife to put on pounds that will carry them over the winter.  They are also easy to open and to digest, making them significant food items for more than 96 species of birds and mammals. Among the highest consumers are White-tailed Deer (acorns are 50% or more of fall and winter diet), Wild Turkeys (up to 38% of diet in winter and spring) and Black Bears.

The impact these nuts have on the species that depend on them as a significant portion of their diet is great: Squirrels, mice and jays store them in the fall and this supply is critical to their winter survival. The geographic distribution of many animals coincides with or depends on the range of oaks, and biologists have linked acorn crop failures to poor Black Bear reproduction and meager antler growth on White-tail bucks.

(Photo – Signs of two acorn hunters. Prior to hibernation, a Black Bear (tracks down center of image) has been looking for leftover acorns in a patch of forest floor that has been scratched up by White-tailed Deer feeding on acorns.) 

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Black Bears Active

Bears are emerging from hibernation a bit earlier than usual this year in Russia, Finland and the U.S. due to warmer temperatures.  The emergence of Black Bears from hibernation in the Northeast usually takes place next month, but they have already been active for several weeks, even in northern New England.

There is little food available to bears in April, but in March the situation is even more dire.  Therefore, bird feeders and human garbage are like bear magnets, so bring in your feeders and make your garbage inaccessible! The climate crisis is having a detrimental effect on wildlife — hibernation, migration and breeding cycles are intimately connected to the availability of food — and as a result of this out-of-sync timing, there will inevitably be more conflict between bears and humans.  (Photo: Black Bear scat filled with sunflower seeds from a bird feeder.  Thanks to Clyde Jenne and Bruce Locke for photo op.)

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Yellowjacket Nests Being Raided

Because yellowjackets do not produce or store honey one might wonder why striped skunks, raccoons and black bears frequently dig up their underground nests.  It is the young yellowjackets (larvae), not honey, that is so highly prized by these insect-eating predators.  At this time of year it is crucial for them, especially black bears who go for months without eating or drinking during hibernation, to consume enough protein to survive the winter.

Whereas adult yellowjackets consume sugary sources of food such as fruit and nectar, larvae feed on insects, meat and fish masticated by the adult workers that feed them. This makes the larvae a highly desirable, protein-rich source of food. (Yellowjacket larvae reciprocate the favor of being fed by secreting a sugary material that the adults eat.)

Three to five thousand adult yellowjackets can inhabit a nest, along with ten to fifteen thousand larvae. Predators take advantage of this by raiding the nests before frost kills both the adults (except for fertilized young queens) and larvae in the fall.  Yellowjackets are most active during the day and return to their underground nest at night.  Thus, animals that raid them at night, such as raccoons, striped skunks and black bears, are usually very successful in obtaining a large meal.  Occasionally, as in this photo, the yellowjackets manage to drive off predators with their stings, leaving their nest intact, but more often than not the nest is destroyed and the inhabitants eaten.  (Thanks to Jody Crosby for photo op of yellowjacket nest (circled in red) dug up by a black bear – note size of rock unearthed.)

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