July at a Glance: By July, cubs born this year have grown to the size of a raccoon or a small dog with big ears. Yearling bears now on their own can be the size of medium dogs. Bears of both sexes mark trees and adult bears mate. Cubs smell their mother’s breath to learn what’s good to eat. Bears’ great memories help them return to proven food sources.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Cub and a Yearling

Yearling bears are about 18 months old in July and out on their own for the first time. Sometimes people mistake these young bears for abandoned cubs and think they need help. In July, cubs of the year are about the size of a raccoon or a small dog; yearlings are usually quite a bit bigger, closer to medium-sized dogs.

black bear family with new cubs, and a yearling black bear

A black bear family with two cubs-of-the-year (left) and a brown-colored yearling black bear (right: Nevada Department of Wildlife)

Fun Fact: One way to distinguish yearlings is by their large ears. A yearling bear’s ears are as long as they will ever be, so as the bear gets older and bigger, the ears seem to shrink, but actually the bear’s head is getting larger and wider.

Cubs born this year are usually still with their moms; if they are left alone, they may cry and whimper. Yearlings seldom vocalize, but they do roam around looking for a home range of their own. Female yearlings are often allowed to share their mom’s home range, but males are forced to move out. It may be several years before male yearlings find a permanent home of their own.

Yearlings of both sexes are now trying to find food without their mom’s help. That’s why it’s so important to make sure there’s nothing around your place to attract them. They need to learn to find natural foods if they’re going to grow up wild.

Signs of Bear Activity  

Bears often mark trees, especially in the summer mating season. Bears stand on their hind legs and scratch the trees with their claws and sometimes teeth. Both male and females mark trees.  Many researchers believe bears create marker trees to announce they are in the area and let other bears know how big they are. Sometimes males will claw the tree above another male’s markings, as if to say, “I’m bigger than you are.”  Bears often deliberately scratch aromatic trees such as conifers, cedars and cherry trees or creosote-soaked poles or structures because the scent created is stronger and carries further than the aroma the bear leaves behind.

Bears Are Still Looking for Mates

Mating often begins in June and goes on throughout July. Mature males may be more active in the daytime now as they travel longer distances throughout their home range. Female bears ready to mate also travel throughout their home range. Bears are very focused on finding mates, so try not to hike alone, pay attention and make noise if you’re out in the woods.

Large male bears chase off younger, smaller rivals but may do battle with other mature males for the right to mate. This is normal mating behavior; both bears may end up with wounds and scars, but even the loser is unlikely to be seriously injured. It’s not safe to approach or interfere. If you are lucky enough to spot two bears that clearly want to be together, just smile and give them some privacy.

Female bears can be ready to mate around age three but may be as old as eight (depending on food availability and conditions). Male bears are also mature at age three but usually must wait longer to mate because the youngsters can’t compete with big mature males.

bear getting the trash

Bears can smell a meal a mile away. (Photo: Steve Johnson-Stott)

Cubs Follow in Mom’s Footsteps

Cubs are big enough now to follow mom as she goes foraging for food. If mom is a wild bear, she teaches them what’s good to eat and how to find and eat specific foods. She shows the youngsters how to eat berries, catch fish and dig for insects. She even lets them smell her breath, so they learn to association certain smells with foods. Yum, termites!

Not All Lessons Are Good Ones

If mom has learned to rely on human-provided food sources, one whiff of mom’s breath will teach the cubs to associate the smells of human food and garbage, pet food, bird seed and more with a full tummy and easy meals. Instead of learning how to forage in the wild, they learn how to raid dumpsters and garbage cans, knock down bird feeders, empty pet food bowls and prowl through campgrounds. If they grow up, they’ll teach their own cubs this same behavior.

Bears have more than a hundred times as many smell receptors in their noses as people do and can detect and follow scent trails a mile or more back to the source. Because bears are omnivores and much of their diet is vegetation, insects and carrion (dead animals), their sense of super-smell is vital to their survival.

Bears have a much better sense of direction than most people. Their built-in GPS guides them back year after year to wherever they found food, whether it’s the berry patch that ripens in July or the trash that goes out every Thursday night.

Make it a BearWise Summer. Explore our online resources so you can avoid attracting bears and stay safe at home and outdoors. Thanks for doing your part to keep bears wild.


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