Black Bear Researcher
After the mating period (June-July) bear activity revolves around berry feeding. Bears must build fat reserves in preparation for hibernation and successful reproduction. Between mid-August and early October bears may consume 6 million huckleberries. Huckleberries are the most important pre-denning (summer-fall) food. Adult males have the greatest knowledge of huckleberry patches due to their larger home range movements (50-150 square km). Larger, dominant resident males expand their movements in mid-late September to include spawning streams. Whistler males have been observed fishing along the Birkenhead River north of Pemberton and feeding at the Squamish dump. Females with eight-month-old cubs remain within their 10-km territories rotating daily feeding activities between berry shrub fields and carpenter ant sites, always ensuring mature timber is nearby for cub escape/security cover. Pregnant females perhaps require the greatest weight gain to support successful reproduction and search endlessly for berries as they begin the four-month period of delayed implantation. Egg development is suspended until fat reserves (from berries) are attained by late November. Bears will increase their daily activity to over 20 hours per day as the berry crops ripen into higher elevations.
Early August berry feeding is on red/orange/purple salmonberries, black twinberries, blue oval-leaf blueberries, purple Alaskan blueberries, black mountain huckleberries, red elderberries, red raspberries, and black gooseberries. Berries ripening during mid-late August are red thimbleberries, red devil's club berries, red high bush cranberries, red mountain ash berries, and white, red-osier dogwood berries. If you want to learn about the different shrubs that produce berries for bears the best plant guide for this region is Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Pojar and MacKinnon (B.C. Forest Service 1994) and is available in many bookstores.
Bears remain active until den entrance (November) throughout timber-shrub and shrub-dominated habitats feeding on berries and carpenter ants from rotten logs/stumps. In the valley, berry-producing habitats are shrub patches and corridors along the valley trail and parks, mountain biking and hiking trails, and throughout residential properties. Above valley bottom, be aware of berry feeding bears along hiking/mountain biking corridors, (i.e. Whistler Interpretive Forest, Cheakamus, and Rainbow) and along creek, river, and lake riparian areas. The most productive huckleberry shrubfields are south, southwest facing slopes in avalanche tracts, wildfire burns, logged areas, and the ski area.
The most common evidence left from bear feeding is fecal droppings (scats). Poke through a scat with a stick and look at the contents. Berry scats can be segmented or runny. Scats will vary in color depending on which berries have been eaten but usually are black, purple, or red. Scats are segmented when bears are feeding on insects (carpenter ants) and will appear as black/brown sawdust when broken apart. Bears feed on carpenter ants from rotten logs, stumps, and from beneath rocks. Small black specs in the scat represent the head or thoracic region of the ant.