The Black Bear
Here in the Great Lakes Bay Region, when we think of black bears, we imagine two tracks lined with cedar trees in the Upper Peninsula or raspberry bushes next to a babbling creek somewhere north of Clare. We don’t really think about our wooded river banks and nearby natural spaces as potential homes for Michigan’s largest carnivore. And yet, they are quietly present in this region, only occasionally spotted carrying on with their lives and getting ready for their long winter sleep.
This time of year, black bears are in the home stretch of preparing for the winter months ahead. Eating acorns, beach nuts, hickory and hazelnuts throughout the fall, they work to pack on the pounds so they can sleep through the season when food is scarce. Not true hibernators, bears go through torpor instead. They only lower their body temperature by about nine degrees, and are easily awakened and able to flee from danger. A pregnant female will wake up to give birth, nurse and care for her young during her long sleep. A winter bear den in Michigan could be a hollow beneath a fallen tree, a space under a mass of roots, tucked into rock crevices or beneath a large brush pile. They just need an out-of-the-way place to call their own while they take a few months off from feeding and walking through the woods.
Come spring, the bears will leave their den in search of snacks to fill their bellies. While technically carnivores, they are more accurately called omnivores, with more than half of their diet made up of plants. Wetlands become a favorite grazing place in spring, with abundant grasses, sedges and skunk cabbage. Later in the growing season, they will feast on raspberries, elderberries, mulberries and other sweet fruits. Bears fill in their diet with ants, bees and other insects, as well as the occasional mouse, woodchuck or frog. They are opportunistic feeders, taking advantage of easily obtained foods whenever possible.
In Michigan, black bears are nearly always black or very dark brown and sometimes have a white patch on their throats. They lead a solitary lifestyle unless the female is raising cubs, in which case they will stay with her until their second spring. Home ranges for black bears can range from 6,000 to 64,000 acres depending on the season and sex of the bear. Their home ranges may overlap, but unless it’s mating season, the bears keep to themselves. As you wander the woods and rivers, keep an eye out for scat, footprints or scratch marks on trees as evidence of their presence in the landscape.
Tips for Keeping Bears Safe