Monday, September 7, 2009

Black Bears In Trees

Shenandoah National Park Black Bears

With the end of Summer approaching at Shenandoah National Park, the forest floor stops producing abundant plant life and the once thick vegetation begins drying out. Even the trees begin thinning somewhat and signs of Autumn's approach is everywhere.

For the black bears, it signals that another year will soon be coming to an end for them. Each year around this time, hyperphagia kicks in and the bears become 'eating machines'. A bear may eat 20,000 calories and gain several pounds or more per day. Adult bears can pile on more than 100 pounds before denning. It is literally the fruition of the fall that provides the black bear with the calories needed to add weight for the winter famine.

They will eat non-stop throughout the day and night until the denning period begins, which for most bears in SNP starts in late October. Contrary to popular belief, hibernation is triggered due to lack of food, not cold Winter weather. Once the food supply is gone, bears have no choice but to go into a den. Due to the park's dense population of black bear, the available food is consumed much faster than in areas with smaller populations (such as national forests).

Although this time of year can be a bit sad if you are a bear enthusiast, it does provide the best opportunities to witness bears climb trees and feed on nuts (namely acorns and hickories). I particularly like to view the large adults scale a tree, it is so fascinating that an animal with such mass can move around and balance itself so easily on tree limbs. And of course, watching cubs manuever their way around a tree is quite a treat as well (see the short video clip at bottom of a cub feeding on acorns).

A black bear cub foraging in an oak tree

Oak trees are not the only trees that the bears forage in, they also love apple trees in mid-summer, as well as hickory trees that also produce towards the end of summer. However I personally believe that the unripened green acorns are their top favorite, because they tend to go to great lengths to get at them.

A big sow climbing up a huge oak tree


A short video clip of a black bear cub eating acorns

For more black bear photos, information and video clips, visit the black bears section of my Web site.