An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Black Bear Sign

Black Bears Waking Up & Ejecting Fecal Plugs

Black Bears spend their entire hibernation with what is referred to as a “fecal plug” in the last foot or so of their intestines. Scientists used to theorize that bears ate lots of roughage and indigestible plant material in order to form this plug that essentially prevents them from evacuating all winter. This theory has been proven wrong, as investigation has shown that the fecal plug consists mainly of intestinal secretions and cells that have sloughed off the inside of the digestive tract. After stopping eating in late fall, bears do produce a small amount of feces, which are in the plug along with hair and leafy bedding, both accumulated from increased grooming (licking of fur and then swallowing) that takes place before entering hibernation. During winter bears shed the calloused soles, or footpads, of their feet and it’s not uncommon to find pieces of them in a plug, as well.

Most fecal plugs measure 1 ½” to 2 ½” in diameter and 7”-15″ long. Fluids have been absorbed from the plug by the intestinal walls, leaving it relatively dry and hard. Its light scent is reminiscent of fermentation. Should you be fortunate enough to find a plug, it’s likely you’re quite close to its owner’s overwintering den, as bears eject their plug soon after emerging from hibernation. (Many thanks to Metta McGarvey and Stephen Brown for sharing their 9″ x 2″ fecal plug with me.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


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.) 

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.


Black Bears Scent Marking In Winter

Congratulations to Rinky for being the first person to correctly identify that a Black Bear had been rubbing its back side against a utility pole in Monday’s Mystery Photo!  A vast majority of responses were correct! Because of the relatively warm fall we’ve had and the ample food supply, Black Bears are still active in much of northern New England.  There is a limited amount of time when bears are awake and snow is on the ground, allowing you to see what they’ve been up to.  This year they are still feeding fast and furiously and, as the tracks in the snow confirm, scent marking.

Black Bears of all ages and both sexes engage in scent marking – rubbing their scent on trees and telephone poles (as well as biting and scratching them) that are often located along travel corridors.  Scent marking typically occurs during the breeding season in June, when males, especially, announce their presence by standing with their back to a tree or pole (often one that leans) and rub their shoulders, neck and back against it, leaving their scent.

The tracks in Monday’s Mystery Photo were discovered recently at the base of a utility pole in New Hampshire.  One look at the tracks’ position, pointing away from the pole, tells you that the bear that made them was facing away from the pole and rubbing his back side against it – proof that scent marking is not limited to the breeding season. (Photo: Black Bear scent marking the same pole in mating season, taken by Alfred Balch)

(If you are feeding birds, it would be wise to bring your feeders in at night until we’ve had enough cold weather to drive Black Bears into hibernation.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.