In this 8-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBPqyf9gvQY, "Taught" caught Tasha showing her Eastern Deciduous Forest roots. She was venturing out of her den to forage for seeds that she knows drop from the nearby bird feeder. Ted, Lucky, and Holly probably also know about those seeds, but their bodies are on a different schedule. Tasha’s roots are in the eastern deciduous forests of Kentucky where food could very well be available in winter. In the eastern deciduous forest that covers the eastern United States, it can be advantageous for black bears to forage in winter. In years of abundant nutritious hard mast (acorns, beechnuts, or hickory nuts) bears in these areas very often dig through the snow for them throughout the winter. In southern areas without snow, it is even easier to find them.
We don’t know where Ted’s genetics are from, but we know Lucky is from Wisconsin and Holly is from Arkansas where bears carry a lot of genes from many Minnesota bears that were released there in the 1960’s. Bears in northern forests that don’t have hickory or beech trees and have few or no oak trees would be wasting their time and fat looking for food in winter when none is available. Consequently, they rarely venture out of their dens in winter, and in fall they hibernate on schedule even if supplemental food is readily available. Their bodies are telling them they are supposed to hibernate, and they do.
Just to complicate the story, though, we have heard of more bears being spotted this December than ever. It is not because food is available, though. Food was about as scarce as possible this past spring and summer of drought. What are the bears doing out in December in Michigan, Wisconsin, and even here in northeastern Minnesota? We don’t know. There is still more to learn, and we are trying to do that.
Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
Wildlife Research Institute
145 West Conan Street
Ely, Minnesota 55731 USA