A week or so ago we had cold weather and snow. The calendar turned to November. At that time I decided it was okay to stop bringing the bird feeder in every night. The bears were hibernating, right? Wrong.
As I worked at home one cool morning, I heard crunching as something passed by our kitchen windows. I figured the sound was from deer, regular visitors to our yard. But what I glimpsed was much stockier than any deer I’ve ever seen. Lower to the ground. And furrier. A big black bear! And lucky for me, it came right up to the window by my desk. And the bird feeder? The bear wasn’t interested.
Black bears do not hibernate because of the cold but because their natural food sources (berries, insects, nuts, etc.) are no longer available. While they are preparing to hibernate, one bear consumes about 20,000 calories per day (fun fact – bears can smell food five miles away!). Based on the size of my visitor, it was right on track.
When black bears do hibernate, their metabolism and heart rate slow to about 50% of their waking rate. This conserves energy. During this time of torpor, they do not drink or eat for about 200 days. They don’t even use the bathroom! Scientists debate whether bears are actually true hibernators because they will wake up if they are disturbed. In addition, pregnant females awaken to give birth, and then to nurse. Some bears will even wake up, wander around, and then return to their den.
I’ve watched for that bear every day since its visit, but I suspect now it’s settled in for a long winter’s nap.