Skip to main content

It’s in your nature: Black bears

  • Empty

    Acorns are a very important food source to help “fatten” bears for the winter and they will feast on them.. Bear hunters know if there is a terrific white oak acorn crop they will most likely find their quarry there. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

  • Empty

    Identify this nest from the options below.

  • Empty

    A large male bear awakens after being sedated for measuring and tagging. An open wound with infection was found on the animal and treated by Wildlife Conservation Officer Cory Bentzoni, with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO

Published June 15. 2019 05:50AM

The largest carnivore in the Times News area and the state of Pennsylvania is the black bear. The males, larger than females, can weigh over 600 pounds. Pennsylvania black bears are probably the largest in the country and they also have a larger average litter size. In preparation for their winter dormancy, some bears store up about a 4-inch fat layer.

I’ll now contradict myself by reminding you that they eat more plant matter than meat. I have witnessed bears grazing in hay fields and of course they crave blackberries, blueberries, apples, acorns, nuts, and when available, farmers’ corn crop. They do eat grubs, mice, fawns, other young animals, and if the opportunity arises, sometimes lambs or poultry.

I chose this time to highlight the bears because this may be the time of the year more bears come into contact with humans. Beginning in June, the males may travel great distances to find a mate. This annual search often brings them into towns, backyards, and across highways. Mating occurs at this time and sows in January, will give birth to two, three, or maybe four cubs weighing about 8 ounces each.

The “hibernating” sow will nurse and warm her cubs for about the next 70 days in her den. By late summer they no longer nurse and have already been taught by “mom” what and how to eat. Reports are that the sow is a strict and doting parent, sometimes swatting a misbehaving cub. They are very alert to her danger signals and will quickly scamper up a tree for safety. Black bear adults are the only North American bear species that can climb trees. To descend, the cubs and adults will climb down rear end first.

Black bear numbers have been steadily increasing, apparently adapting to intrusions of man into their deep forest and swampy home ranges. This population increase leads to more contacts with humans especially on “garbage nights,” raiding the bird feeders, or destroying bee hives. The increased number of bears is leading to an increase in mange. Mange is a terrible skin disease caused by mites under their skin leading to fur loss and suffering. If Game Commission personnel get to treat an affected bear early enough, they can recover.

A bear technically hibernates, but as I noted earlier, a sow gives birth while in her winter den. This is in January, typically the coldest month of the year. At one half pound and with only a thin fur covering, the cubs need to be kept warm. Bears, unlike true hibernators (woodchuck), have a body temperature which only drops a few degrees. Pregnant females generally den earlier and remain in the dens longer. Males are a bit different. I have a game camera photo of a bear active on Jan. 2, 2018 and “he” was captured again on Jan. 28, 2018. It was most likely a male.

Respects bears, especially a sow with cubs, and try not to feed them. Mange spreads more rapidly when a number of bears contact each other at this type of food source.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Refer to the photo above: What insect builds this paper nest? A. yellow jacket B. baldfaced hornet C. bumble bee D. paper wasp

Last Week’s trivia: Actually, the opossum has more teeth than any North American mammal.

Contact Barry Reed at

Classified Ads

Event Calendar


December 2019


Upcoming Events

Twitter Feed