What are bears up to this winter?

Rest and repair:

January finds bears across much of North America tucked snugly into their dens, living off the fat reserves they worked so hard to accumulate while their bodies rest and repair injuries. Exactly how bears do this is a mystery that scientists would love to solve. Just imagine if humans were able to “hibernate,” heal wounds without losing any muscle or bone mass and wake up months later fit and alert. Spend months asleep without going to the bathroom. Or go to sleep after the holiday food fest and wake up in the spring several sizes smaller. READ MORE: Do Bears Really Hibernate?

Bear dens turn into nurseries:

Photo by Steve Uffman

In January and February, pregnant bears give birth and bear dens turn into nurseries. Cubs are born while their moms are very drowsy, although they are alert enough to clean up their tiny newborns and tidy up the den before going back to sleep. At birth, cubs weigh less than a pound and would easily fit into your hand. Cubs instinctively know that their only job is to nurse and grow bigger and stronger on their mom’s rich milk, which has as much fat content as whipping cream. While snoozing mother bears nurture their newborns, other bears may take advantage of a warmer than normal February day to wander out into the world for a bit.

Time to venture out:

Adult male bears generally spend the least amount of time in their dens and are typically the first bears to emerge in March. In areas where food, human-provided or natural, is plentiful, many bears may not den up at all. Unlike most humans, bears can go from sound asleep to wide awake in seconds; that ability helps them react swiftly to any intruders or other surprises. As the month progresses, more bears venture out, and soon will be searching for water and eventually food. More than one hiker, dog walker or bird-feeder filler has surprised a bear (and vice versa).

West Virginia bear leaves den

Photo by West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

READ MORE about the nature of bears

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(Top photo courtesy of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission)

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