False Alarm - UPDATE April 10, 2021

Spanky inspecting the containerSpanky inspecting the container

Spanky was gone most or all of the time (we are waiting for archives to confirm) from 4:27 PM yesterday until 7:39 PM today. We thought he was gone for good. It is, after all, mid April which we think of as the average date or emergence. Adult males are usually the first to emerge, and very little snow remains this year. It made sense that he would be out and about. Thinking that, I took this chance to look for the huge piece of foot pad he removed from his right front paw a couple days ago as we caught in this 30-second video: https://youtu.be/cJQQF_nLkuM.

After he removed it, I watched for chewing and swallowing motions, but he turned his head away and I couldn’t see. They usually ingest the foot pads as evidenced by the facts that we find them in their scats and we don’t find them in their dens. But this was an extra big piece of foot pad that he pulled off. Would he swallow such a big piece? I wanted to check. It was gone as is usual. I also wanted to take pictures of his bed and look for any scat that we might have missed being deposited in the videos. None, and no bad smell of any kind. That was at 5 PM to 5:20 PM. I was sure he was gone for good.

Wrong. At 7:39 PM, he crawled back in, sniffed around a little perhaps wondering who or what had been in his den, but went right to sleep unfazed. We’re still learning. Here is a 5:05 video of my visit and his return shortly thereafter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEkFP68t1Nk.

As far as we know, this is the first male that anyone has watched on a den cam. We want to see the activities of a male with no family responsibilities and compare them with what we’ve seen of mothers caring for cubs or yearlings. With this 6-year-old male, we have such a good view under the porch that we can see how his breathing patterns change from mid-winter to spring. In mid-winter, we saw 12 to 18-second pauses between the end of an exhale to the beginning of the next breath. Now we are seeing 4-6 breaths per minute with little or no time between breaths. We also saw him become active on February 27, crawling 20 feet from his bed to the open edge of the porch where he began eating snow regularly. A little over a week later (on March 7), he began making excursions outside that turned into surprising, hours-long ventures.

A video that we caught a couple days ago https://youtu.be/IwDCSWbN3aQ was of him investigating a plastic container that made strange hollow sounds and jumped up and hit him in the nose when he stepped on the edge of it. He began cautious and almost fearful of it but continues to explore it, jumping back when it seemed ready to hit him in the nose again.

All the while, over 50 valuable den watchers have been recording his daily activity cycle, breathing patterns, and ventures as best they can. But there are some problems with the live stream, when it pauses for too long the YouTube feed fills in with a previous recording. For those times we will be using archived video to observe the gaps and see how his activity patterns have changed through the denning period.

I can’t say how thankful I am for the den watchers who are making this possible. It takes dedication to do what they do. I can’t wait to see the patterns they discover and how they differ from (or are similar to) those of females we have studied.

Actually, I view this den cam as a new beginning. I look forward to doing more in the future, watching old familiar bears like Lily and Jewel, adding new females to increase the sample size, and observing more males to see how they differ.

Thank you for all you do!
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center