The more I learn about black bears, the more I fall in love with these incredible creatures. While working at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort I have had many opportunities to watch bears in their natural habitat; foraging for food, climbing trees, or passing the warm hours of the day sleeping under a tree. But what are bears up to during the winter months while in hibernation? Read below and be amazed!
1. Bears hibernate not because of the cold but because there is a lack of food during the winter months.
2. Females have their babies during hibernation (mid-winter) and mothers nurse their babies in the den until spring arrives.
3. Even though a bear becomes pregnant, it does not mean she will have a baby that winter. Bears mate in the spring and after a brief moment of embryo development, the female experiences “delayed implantation”; the embryo stops development for several months. If the mother has enough stored energy (fat) to last her and her babies through the winter, the embryo will implant and continue to develop into a baby. If she does not have enough stored energy, she will reabsorb the embryo and will not give birth that year. This adaptation works to ensure that the female bear will survive the long winter.
4. Bears do not go into complete hibernation the way rodents do. Their body temperature drops by only 7 or 8 degrees centigrade (instead of freezing like a ground squirrel). Their heart rate slows from 50 beats per minute to about 10 beats per minute. Bears burn about 4,000 calories a day while in hibernation – which is why bears need to put on so much fat (fuel) before they go into hibernation (an adult male can curl up with over a million calories of energy stored in his rolls!).
5. Bears no not urinate or defecate during hibernation. Instead, bears reabsorb their urine and feces in the form of proteins.
6. Bears can lose 25-40% of their body weight during hibernation – burning their fat for fuel.
7. One of the favourite den types for a black bear is a standing tree hollow; however logging practices of removing dead trees have made these sites scarce.
8. Black bears have been known to den in a human’s basement without them ever knowing they had a bear for a roommate over the winter months!
9. The pads on a bear’s paws will peel off during hibernation to make room for growth and new tissue.
10. When bears emerge from hibernation, they are in a state of “walking hibernation” for several weeks. Bears may appear drunk or in a stupor until their bodies get back to normal.
Fairmont Hot Springs and the Columbia Valley is definitely a hot spot for black bear viewing opportunities. While black bears are incredibly entertaining to watch and negative encounters are extremely rare, we must do our part in keeping ourselves and the bears safe.
Feeding bears (intentional or accidental) almost always ends with the bear being killed. Once a bear tastes human food (found in your apple trees or in your garbage can) it’s hard to convince them to find food somewhere else. Once a bear becomes a nuisance, its days are numbered. In Fairmont Hot Springs, about three black bears are killed every year because they continuously get into trouble after a taste of human food.
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort has taken big steps in trying to avoid the unintentional feeding of bears by picking our fruit and making sure our garbage is not accessible to bears. However, the entire community and all visitors need to be on board too in order to avoid habituating bears.
Our local black bears may seem accustom to people (they may even appear to be tame) but they are still wild animals and need their space. Never approach a bear and try to spend minimal time around a bear to avoid habituating them to humans. Taking pictures of bears for long periods of time plays a key roll in habituating bears – take a quick picture and then be on your way to protect yourself and the bear.
Join us in our fight to keep people and bears safe in Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. To find out more information about bears and bear awareness, please visit us at BC Rockies Adventures located in the Resort’s hotel.
Jocelyn MacGregor - Head Naturalist/BC Rockies Adventures