MICHIGAN – If you’ve been following along with Fat Bear Week 2021 hosted by the National Park Service, you know that this time of year, bears are packing on the pounds in preparation for a long winter spent in their dens. Here in Michigan, black bears are doing the same.
Black bears likely will enter their dens for hibernation by December, but timing can vary depending on food availability. Bears may start entering dens in early October, with females typically entering dens earlier than males. Prior to hibernation, bears spend months foraging for foods rich in calories to bulk up their fat reserves. In the bear world, fat means survival, as they can lose up to one-third of their body weight during hibernation.
“While foraging, bears may move into new areas in search of food or return to a location where they previously found a meal,” said Rachel Leightner, wildlife outreach coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division. “During this time, we ask everyone to consider removing their bird feeders and any other potential food sources until bears have entered their dens in December.”
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and will follow their nose to find food. While natural foods such as acorns, hickory nuts and hazelnuts are abundant, bird seed in feeders is an especially appealing food source because it is high in calories and easy to access.
“Even if you enjoy wildlife watching and seeing black bears, it’s critical for the health and safety of a bear to not eat from human-provided food sources. Bears that seek out these types of foods are more at risk to lose their fear of humans, which ultimately may lead to an unfortunate outcome for the bear,” Leightner said.
Bears also may be attracted to grills with food debris, unsecured trash or outdoor pet foods. While outdoors raking leaves this fall, look around your yard and see what small steps you can take to help keep Michigan black bears wild. Additional tips and information about preventing potential conflicts with bears can be found at Michigan.gov/Wildlife.