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Black Bear

Ours Noir

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Black Bear

Facts about the Black Bear

  • Poor eyesight.  The black bear is colour-blind, it cannot distinguish colours. 
  • Very acute hearing.
  • Highly developed sense of smell. The bear will rear up on its hind legs and sniff t    he air to better detect the presence of an intruder or a source of food. 
  • Each paw is armed with five powerful, curved claws that are non-retractable. 
  • The fur is long and thick.  There is often a white V-shaped patch on the chest. Some black bears are not really black, their fur is more a dark or cinnamon brown.  

Shy and aloof, the Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is the smallest member of the Ursidae family that is found in most regions of North America, and particularly throughout Canada, except in Prince Edward Island. 

It is smaller than its cousins the Grizzly Bear (brown) and the Polar Bear (white).

Black bears are bulky and thickset, which is why they walk with a lumbering gait. But they can run as fast as 55 km/h over short distances. They are also skillful swimmers. 

Habitat

Ours noirBlack bears are found mainly in wooded areas with thick growths of deciduous and coniferous trees and where there’s water. Their range, which is criss-crossed by a network of trails, can extend over some 40 km2. Bears like to claw trees, possibly to mark their territory although this behaviour is not entirely understood. There appear to be more such claw marks during the mating season. Although active during the day, bears do most of their long-range roaming at night. 

Single parent family

Bear cubs are curious and love to play, always under the watchful eye of their mother. She is a patient and affectionate parent while she trains them in survival skills and teaches them how to avoid predators such as humans, lynxes, cougars and adult bears. Mama bear will come running at the least sign of distress from her cubs. The female bear rears the cubs on her own for a period of about 18 months.

The den

Ourson tanièreThe cubs are born naked, blind and toothless. Soft, woolly fur begins to grow over their body during the first week after birth. Their eyes only open when they’re 5 or 6 weeks old. The cubs leave the den in April and are fully weaned by the beginning of summer. They will spend the following winter with their mother. By their third winter, they will choose whether to stay and share the den with their brothers and sisters, or find a den of their own for the winter. 

A voracious appetite

Black bears are omnivores, they will eat pretty much anything. Their diet is 75% vegetarian and consists of plants, roots, grains and fruits (blueberries, strawberries, apples). They are particularly fond of carrion and garbage, and have been known to even gobble up cardboard containers. And they just love honey.   

On occasion, they will consume small mammals (rabbits, mice, groundhogs) and supplement their diet with a variety of insects.

Excellent climbers

Ours noirBlack bears are extremely agile climbers. When they feel threatened, they scamper to the nearest tree for safety. To climb a tree, they ‘embrace’ the trunk with their front legs and push themselves up with their back paws. They climb down a tree backwards and will often jump to the ground from a considerable height without injuring themselves.

THE BLACK BEAR SEASON BY SEASON

Spring

In spring, when a bear leaves its den, not only is it thinner - having lost as much as 30% of its weight – it is also famished because it hasn’t eaten all winter long. The normal weight for males is 115 to 270 kg; females average between 90 and 140 kg.

This is the time of year that bears have been known to attack young cervids such as moose, deer and caribou. Bears don’t have a highly developed hunting instinct. When they’re forced to kill for food, they will choose easy prey. 

Also during this period, a bear’s thick fur is replaced by a more lightweight coat.

Summer

By the age of 18 months, the cubs that were born the previous year are old enough to leave their mother. The female can now breed again. The male and female will stay together for about a month. When mating has been completed, the two separate to resume their solitary existence. 

While food is plentiful, bears will gorge themselves, feasting mainly on fruits and nuts such as blueberries, strawberries, acorns and beechnuts. 

Bears reach sexual maturity in their third or fourth year, although sometimes as late as 7 years of age. 

Fall

As autumn sets in, a bear will begin to look for quarters in which to winter. It will have reached its maximum weight, having stored the necessary fat reserve to last it through the winter. It will make a den in any tree hollow, uprooted stump or cave it can find.  

Pregnant females will take extra care in choosing a den site, and line it with mosses and grasses to make it warm and comfortable for their eventual offspring.  Males are far less fussy about their choice of winter quarters, and will often find a den much later in the season. 

By the time they reach the age of 5, females have a litter every two years, if and when there’s plenty of food.  They give birth to 2 or 3 young on average.

Winter

The cubs are born in the dead of winter. 15 to 20 cm in length and weighing a mere 225 g, newborn cubs are roughly the size of a squirrel. Naked and blind, they stay warm nestled in their mother’s fur, alternately sleeping and suckling.  The cubs grow at such a fast rate that come the spring, they are big enough to follow their mother around.  

Bears don’t need to eat in winter; they live off their fat reserve. During hibernation, a bear breathes a mere 2 to 4 times a minute; its body temperature can drop by 4 to 7 degrees Celsius. Although their temperature drops and their heart beats more slowly, they never reach a state of deep hibernation. If the weather turns mild, they have been known to leave their den for a little stroll outside. 

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