The berries are finally ripening and it’s time for black bears in Ontario to start putting on weight.
In July, breeding season ends and black bears get down to the serious business of consuming as much food as they can.
Bears eat blueberries, raspberries, cherries and blackberries.
In fact, 90% of their diet consists of plant matter such as berries and nuts, as well as insects.
Although bears are considered carnivores, their diet is omnivorous and mainly plant-based.
What time of day are bears active?
Black bears are most active during the twilight hours: dawn and dusk.
This time of day is generally cooler and in areas where bears share the landscape with people, there is less human activity.
Photo: Kassandra and Jeff Moore
That doesn’t mean you’ll never see a bear during the day!
When natural foods are ripe, bears actively feed for many hours of the day.
If you hike in an area of excellent blueberry production in bear habitat, chances are there will be bears around.
Learn more about how to take simple steps to avoid encounters with bears.
How do bears cope with the heat while sporting a thick fur coat?
Bears deal with the heat in several ways.
It tends to be cooler at dawn and dusk, when bears are most active.
Just like us, bears are no strangers to swimming in lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water to cool off.
When it’s hot, bears also lie down in a shady area.
To prepare for summer, bears shed their fur to better dissipate heat and place their sparsely furred bellies on the ground to cool off.
Is it a puppy or a yearling?
Females with their cubs actively move in search of food, and the mother teaches her babies to behave like a bear.
The cubs are now quite active and can follow mom. They are eating natural foods, but still breastfeeding.
When people see smaller bears, it can be difficult to tell if it is a cub, which would have a mother nearby, or a yearling, who is not accompanied by an adult.
black bear cub
Bear cubs born this year are about the size of a raccoon or a small dog in July.
Yearling bears are the size of a medium to large dog in July, but this can vary greatly depending on sex and abundance of food.
One-year-old bears have ears that appear very large for their heads, and their limbs may also appear long relative to their body size. These bears appear lanky and are clearly not fully developed.
A built-in navigation system
Black bears are famous for their ability to navigate the landscape.
When they find food, they record it in long-term memory. Using their excellent memory, bears can travel more than 150 kilometers outside their normal range to places where food is abundant.
Data from bears equipped with GPS collars suggests that these bears knew exactly where they were going and how to return, due to the almost direct route of the trip.
Year after year, bears travel to known areas in search of reliable food sources, such as a blueberry field, an oak or beech forest with acorns and beech, or a stream where they can catch fish in the spring.
How much can a bear eat?
While preparing for hibernation, black bears can consume up to 20,000 calories per day.
That’s about ten times the amount of food the average human consumes!
However, they don’t always eat as much. In spring, natural foods are not abundant. But when summer comes, the bears increase their appetite.
Pin Cherry Tree, a Bear’s Favorite!
When food is available, bears are busy eating whatever they can.
What is 20,000 calories in bear terms?
That’s about 78 pounds of blueberries or 9 pounds of acorns.
When natural foods are ripe, bears need to eat and will spend hours every day to get the calories they need. You can imagine how difficult it would be to get that amount of food every day unless food is plentiful.
You can also see why a cooler full of food for four people for the weekends would be a very tempting prospect for a hungry bear!
That’s why it’s so important to properly manage food and other wildlife attractions when visiting Ontario parks.
What do you mean by “properly storing wildlife attractants”?
Properly storing wildlife attractants means ensuring that wildlife cannot access the items.
Wildlife must remain wild, for their safety and ours.
Do not intentionally feed wildlife and make sure any items you have are inaccessible to wildlife, such as chipmunks and bears.
Storing items anywhere that can break easily (such as a tent) is not proper storage.
Wildlife attractants are anything that attracts wildlife, such as human or pet food, birdseed, toiletries, and really anything smelly they want to investigate.
Garbage also attracts wildlife due to the food scraps it contains and the strong smell.
Many campgrounds have set up bear-proof food storage facilities for those without vehicles on site.
If they are available at your campsite, use a lock and store your cooler and other wildlife attractants when not in use.
If you are camping with your vehicle, store all food and other wildlife attractants in your trunk.
Lock the vehicle doors and close all windows.
Bears can break a window left open and can easily get into all types of truck bed covers.
If you drive a vehicle without a trunk, lock food and other items in the passenger compartment, make sure the windows are closed, and lock the doors.
It’s also a good idea to cover the cooler with a blanket.
Any trash you have should be taken to disposal sites frequently and not left unattended at your campsite.
Be careful with bears
Black bears are amazing animals.
Let’s do everything we can to respect and coexist with the black bears that call our protected areas home!