After many weeks of reviewing hours of black bear footage on our wildlife video cameras, it is time to write something about them! This is a masting year for many of our oak species in Little Lake Valley, meaning they have produced a huge number of acorns. Many animals are reaping the benefits this fall, including the California black bear, Ursus americanus californiensis. Acorns are full of fat and protein, unlike a lot of other wild foods that bears eat such as berries and grass. They do opportunistically feed on carrion and will eat a fawn, or a baby beaver if they can catch them, but the acorns that have fallen this year are easy pickens for these large mammals.
The California black bear is a large powerful mammal that has a small narrow head (for its size), wide and long clawed paws, and small ears. It most frequently comes in many shades of brown and black. I have also seen blonde and cinnamon-colored black bears in my own yard. Sometimes a white patch is displayed on their chest. Adult females can weigh 100 to 200 pounds while male black bears are usually 150 to 350 pounds. Some individuals have been found to weigh upwards of 600 pounds! Now that is a great big bear.
Prior to 1950 black bears were not found in the central coast area to the Transverse ranges, but it is believed that the extermination of the grand grizzly bears has allowed the Black bears to extend their range. In California, black bear populations have increased from about 15,000 black bears in 1982 to a current population of 40,000.
Their large paws have five toes with long claws on both the front and back that not only allow them to climb up trees with speed but also are used for digging. They dig out ants from tree trunks, honeycomb from inside trees, and dig up wasp nests to eat the larvae and eggs of the wasps. Fruit is a favorite food in the fall, especially pears, apples, and plums. In our orchard the greatest threat to the fruit trees are the bears climbing because they break so many branches and can flatten a large apple tree while eating the apples. The smell of trash attracts them too and they will ingest lots of paper and plastic if there are good smells or just some food remnants left on them. We try to wash out food bags and containers that have food on them before recycling them in our outdoor bins.
The scat this time of year from so many animals from bears to deer to turkeys is full of acorn meal. The piles of bear scat are everywhere around the sandy banks of Outlet Creek and are full of chewed up acorns. Earlier in the season I was seeing manzanita berries in all the scat.
Other interesting facts about our California black bear is that they are not ready to breed until they are over 4 years old. The young sometimes stay with the mom for two years. Black bears have “delayed implantation” which means that a female bear can carry a fertilized egg in her womb for 4 to 5 months before in attaches itself to the uterine wall. It waits for a chemical signal from the mother which is not well understood by scientists but is believed to have something to do with fat reserves from the fall and winter eating cycle. This allows the female bear to time the birth of the 1 to 4 cubs with adequate food supplies and the end of hibernation. It also can signal a spontaneous abortion if the conditions are not good for the survival of any young cubs. What a tool for population control.
We believe that we have captured up to five different bears in Little Lake Valley on video. There are female and male bears of varying sizes. The sizes, shapes, colors, torn ears, or particular walking habits help us to keep them apart. The cameras are excellent tools for observing wildlife and determining trends on the mitigation lands. Enjoy the wildlife camera footage of these bears gorging for hours on the Valley oak acorns.