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  Living With Pennsylvania's Black Bears
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Feeding Habits

Bears may be on the move at anytime, but they're usually most active at night or during early morning. Bears are omnivorous, eating almost anything from berries, corn, acorns, beechnuts, or 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.

Bears and Winter

Bears are usually dormant in winter, remaining in their dens, which are usually rock caverns, excavated holes beneath shrubs, trees or dead falls, in hollow trees or brushy thickets. A hibernating bear's heart rate and breathing slow and its body temperature drops slightly. During this time, they do not eat or drink, or pass body wastes. A hibernating bear relies on stored fat to make it through winter. On warm winter days, however, bears may emerge to look for food.

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; litters number one to five cubs. The newborns are blind, toothless, and covered with short, fine hair that seems to inadequately cover their pink skin. Cubs nurse in the den while the sow is hibernating. Nurtured with the sow's rich milk; they grow from a birth weight as light as 10 ounces to as much as 10 pounds by the time they leave the den in late March or early April. Boars do not help rear young.

Most black bear 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 and eat cubs. The family group disbands the following summer when the sow again is ready to breed.

What To Do If You Live in Bear Country

If you live or have a summer home in bear country, you may have to make adjustments in your lifestyle if you plan to coexist peacefully with these large animals. Make sure you don't encourage resident bears to become 'nuisance' bears by carelessly handling garbage or intentionally feeding bears. Your carelessness could lead to a bear's removal from the area or its death.

Black bears will consume almost anything. They will eat human food, garbage, bird feeder offerings, pet foods and livestock feed. They also raid cornfields and destroy beehives. Once bears find easily-accessible food sources, whether on a farm or in a housing development, they overcome their wariness of people and visit regularly. Often the only way to get rid of these unwanted, late-night visitors is to remove the food source for about a month. Even then, there are no guarantees.

Pennsylvania Black Bear

You can reduce bear visits to your property by keeping garbage out of a bear's reach and as odor-free as possible. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. Store trash inside a building, garage or shed. Don't put out your trash until the morning of collection day. Be sure garbage cans are cleaned regularly using hot water and chlorine bleach.

If you have pets, bring their food pans inside at night. Speaking of dogs, bears generally steer clear of chained or penned dogs. Unleashed dogs that approach bears, however, may be perceived as a threat and could be seriously injured, even
killed. If you have a dog in bear country, don't let it roam far from the house, leash it whenever you hike in the woods, and keep it in the house or in a kennel at night.

Other around-the-home tips include cleaning grease from your barbecue grill after every use, and properly disposing of grill grease. Don't dump the grease out back. If you feed birds during summer, you may want to bring all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, in at night. Bears also are attracted to fruit, melon rinds or other tasty items in mulch or compost piles.

Beehives attract bears, especially right after bruins come out of hibernation in the spring and during the peak honey production period in late summer and fall. You can protect your bees, honey and equipment if you surround hives with bear-deterrent fences. Contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission for more information about fencing.

Black bears are also attracted to sweet and field corn, especially in the milk stage. Bears can devastate cornfields. Call the Game Commission if bears are causing extensive damage; officers may be able to help you with your problem.

Recreational feeding areas -- dumpsters, garbage pits and wildlife feeders where people gather to see bears -- are bad news for bears and people. Bears that frequent these areas often loose their natural fear of humans. Bears drawn to these places often take the next step, the one that puts them in close proximity to human dwellings. These are the bears that sometimes climb onto porches or break into houses to investigate enticing smells. Other times they raid bird feeders, clean out dog dishes, kill domestic animals or rifle through garbage containers.

If a bear is visiting your property, there are two possible courses of action. The first could be to make loud noises or shout at the bear, kind of like you'd react to your neighbor's dog getting into your trash, but keep your distance. The second option, would be to leave the bear alone, and clean up the bear's mess after it leaves. Follow up by making sure you eliminate bear feeding opportunities so the next time one comes around it will keep moving.

If bears are feeding regularly at a site, encourage your neighbors or community to clean up and close the area. Don't wait until spectators become a problem, or bears start roaming the neighborhood. Eliminate the feeding source; it's what lured the bears to your area.

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