New Kensington, Pa. – Over the past few years, more and more residents of the Alle-Kiski Valley are seeing black bears in their neighborhoods. One such recent incident recently took place on Alter Road, just off Garver’s Ferry Road near Lower Burrell said property owner Myla Pearce. Pearce said the black bear stumbled across her back porch, looked in the window then trotted across the yard.
HERE’S THE BEAR FACTS:
Ursus americanus is the black bear’s scientific name; it means “American bear.” Although three species of bears inhabit North America, only the black bear is found in Pennsylvania. A population estimate in 2015 showed approximately 20,000 bears living in the commonwealth. Black bears appear heavy, but are surprisingly agile; they can run up to 35 miles per hour, climb trees and swim well. They may live up to 25 years in the wild.
Black bears are intelligent and curious. Studies show that bears can see colors, recognize human forms, and notice even the slightest movement. Bears usually rely on their acute sense of smell and, to a lesser degree, hearing, to locate food and danger. Despite their common name, black bears are not always black. They may be cinnamon or, even rarer, blond. Many bears have a white blaze or “V” on their chest.
Adults usually weigh around 200 pounds, with males being heavier than females, often more than twice as much. Some weigh up to 600 or more pounds and rare individuals up to 900. Males are called boars; females, sows. Black bears measure about three feet high when on all fours or about five to seven feet tall when standing upright.
BEAR SIGNS AND SOUNDS
Black bear tracks are distinctive. The hind footprint resembles a human’s. Bears have five toes. The front foot is shorter than the rear, which is long and narrow. Claw marks may or may not be visible.
Bears use trails, just like people do. Look for tracks in soft earth or around mud puddles, and for claw marks on smooth-bark trees or rotten logs that have been ripped apart for insects. It’s also easy to recognize a black bear’s sizeable droppings of partly digested berries, vegetation, corn or animal hair.
Adult black bears make a variety of sounds that include woofing, growling and jaw-popping. Sows communicate with their cubs by using low grunts or huffs. Cubs whimper, chuckle and bawl.
BEARS AND WINTER
Bears are usually dormant in winter, remaining in their dens, which can be rock caverns; excavated holes beneath shrubs, trees or dead falls; in hollow trees; or nests built on the ground. A hibernating bear’s heart rate and breathing slow, and its body temperature drops slightly. During this time they do not eat, drink or pass body wastes. A hibernating bear relies on stored fat to make it through the winter, however, they may emerge if disturbed.
MATING AND BREEDING
In Pennsylvania, bears mate primarily from early June to mid-July. Males are very aggressive towards each other at this time. Sows give birth in January to litters of one to five. The newborn cubs are blind, toothless, and covered with short, fine hair that seems to inadequately cover their pink skin. Cubs begin nursing immediately after birth, and are groomed and cared for daily by the sow. Nurtured with the sow’s rich milk, they grow from as light as 10 ounces at birth to as much as 10 pounds by the time they leave the den in early April. Males do not help rear young.
Most cubs stay with the sow for a little more than a year. They watch her every move and learn by imitating her. Cubs are playful, regularly romping and wrestling with their littermates. The sows are very protective of cubs, sending them up trees if danger threatens. Adult males occasionally kill cubs. The family group disbands when the cubs are about a year and a half old and the sow is again ready to breed.
Bears may be on the move at any time, but are most active at dusk and dawn. Bears are omnivorous, eating almost anything, from berries, corn, acorns, beechnuts and even grass, to table scraps, carrion, honey and insects. During late summer and fall, black bears fatten up for winter hibernation. At this time they may actively feed for up to 20 hours a day, ingesting up to 20,000 calories.
Intentionally feeding bears is against the law in Pennsylvania. It is also against the law to put out any feed, for any wildlife, that is causing bears to congregate or habituate to an area.