Planning a visit and wondering if you’ll see a black bear? Tune in to our monthly Black Bear feature, where our ecologists update you on common bear behavior throughout the month or season.
Love is in the air in June for some black bears!
It is the mating season, which runs from approximately mid-May to July.
It’s more important than ever to practice bear safety during your visit!
Here’s what our bears are up to this month:
It’s time to make a puppy!
Bears reach sexual maturity at around five years of age or sometimes later in the northernmost areas of the province.
Most female bears reproduce once every two years when they reach maturity. Black bear mothers who had cubs last year will chase away the now one-year-olds so they can reproduce again.
For males, it may take longer to successfully reproduce. They need to grow to defend themselves against other suitors and attract potential mates.
It takes time to reach the size needed to be a successful male black bear in the breeding season, and some male bears may be 8 to 10 years old before earning the right to mate.
Male bears travel long distances and defend their rivals. This requires large amounts of energy.
Males may have a home range of 150 km2 or more, encompassing the home range of several females.
Once bears breed, pregnant black bears do not begin to gestate right away.
They go through a process called delayed implantation. The pause button on pregnancy is pressed, and the bear does not begin to gestate her embryos until she enters the den.
Photo: Kassandra and Jeff Moore
You must have gained enough weight to have a successful pregnancy and give birth. Studies have shown that bears weighing at least 150 pounds at the den entrance in the fall will successfully gestate and give birth to cubs.
Black bear moms with cubs of the year are busy trying to find food and stay away from other bears. They still primarily use last year’s fat reserves to produce the milk needed to nurse the puppies.
Low-calorie spring foods will fill your stomach, but they won’t necessarily provide you with enough calories to thrive and gain weight.
Puppies, on the other hand, grow every day, becoming more playful with each other and exploring their surroundings while learning all kinds of lessons from watching their mother.
A female black bear raises her cubs for 17 to 18 months. After that, they must fend for themselves.
Finding food in June
All of this bear activity occurs while high-calorie foods are scarce on the landscape.
In June, the natural food for bears consists mainly of vegetation. Delicious ripe berries are just around the corner and will begin to be available in the southernmost areas of the province in mid to late June.
Black bears still rely on their fat reserves from last year for energy.
In fact, bears only have about four months a year, from July to October, when natural foods are plentiful, to gain weight.
A legendary sense of smell
If the world’s best sniffing dogs are the smallest league of olfactory ability, black bears are the elite stars.
They can smell food from miles away. Not only that, but bears have an excellent memory. They will return to places where they found food in the past.
Bears will remember a bountiful blueberry field, where cherries abound or where saplings lay their eggs in the spring. They will return year after year to those food sources.
They will also remember the location of places like camps if they can access food there.
That’s why Ontario Parks has regulations for proper storage of wildlife attractants. It is for the safety of park visitors and wildlife alike.
If a bear can find food in a campsite or backcountry campsite, it may come back again. If the bear continues eating when it returns, it may lose its natural fear of humans.
What can you do?
With millions of visitors each year, Ontario Parks relies on visitors to take simple proactive steps to ensure their actions do not lead to a bear becoming habituated to humans or conditioned to food.
Don’t keep snacks or anything else smelly that an animal might investigate in your tent. It’s an open invitation to all kinds of wild creatures.
Not only can raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, and insects sniff out and try to find the treats, but a bear might as well.
Store any wildlife attractants you have in the trunk of your car, in a bear-proof container, or hang them out of reach between two trees.
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!