Bear Dens

Where do black bears (Ursus americanus) usually den? Black bears have a variety of options, based on their preferences and availability. They may choose to dig a den of their own or take refuge under a tree that was knocked down in a strong wind. They have also been known to seek shelter in hollow trees, caves, or in previously occupied dens. A bear can typically dig a new den in around 3 to 7 days. When doing so, they may move up to a ton or more of soil!

To minimize heat loss and save energy over the winter, black bears will insulate their dens with bedding material like pine boughs. This material creates small pockets of air which help to retain body heat, keeping the bear warmer throughout the cold winter months. In general, the warmest dens are just slightly larger than the bear, allowing for better heat retention.

So, do males and females den down at the same time? It turns out that, no, they don’t! Male black bears typically entered their dens later in the fall than females and they also emerged from their dens earlier in the spring. Black bear movement to their dens is typically associated with changes in the weather. When the temperatures start to drop, bears start heading for the warmth of their dens. The arrival of the first severe snowstorm normally seals the deal. When the snow flies, the bears turn in for the winter!

Denise Peterson

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