Ten days after losing her third and final cub, Jeanie, a 17-20 year old resident female black bear (smaller brown in foreground) play-wrestles with the male suspected of killing her cub sometime between Aug. 20 and 22. Both bears have been observed and monitored almost daily as a foraging, wrestling, and now a courting pair from (so far) Aug. 31 to Sept. 7. The male has made attempts to copulate but has so far been unsuccessful (that I have seen).
Her willingness to accept pairing with a male now exemplifies the female bear's always immediate goal to perpetuate the species, even after the loss of three cubs (two in spring, one in fall) at this late in the season.
This is the latest courtship behavior that I have seen among more than 500 identifiable pairs of black bears observed since 1994. Late season (after July) breeding has been documented by bear biologists in Northern B.C. but I think it is safe to say it is not the norm.
The breeding period among black bears seems to centre around June for most of North America. In Whistler, breeding has occurred from late May through late July with the highest frequency of physical pairing in June. June breeding allows females to begin the major fall feeding period (August-October) already pregnant, so as the social antics of courting, rejecting, cub defense, and copulation do not interfere with the required intense day-to-day feeding.
When I first observed the male harassing Jeanie and her cub in August I wondered why he was attempting this so late in the season. But because female bears do not implant fertilized eggs from June breeding until late November (to ensure proper weight gain by female) is it possible that females could be successfully bred late in the season as their eggs are in suspension and have not undergone implantation?
Late season (after July) breeding followed by successful cub production has (to my knowledge) never been documented in black bears from this region of B.C.
Behavioral events such as mothers keeping cubs longer (2.5 years instead of 1.5 years), females separating from yearlings for breeding then allowing family re-grouping, changing spatial relationships with neighbouring females, alternative foraging strategies and now late season courtship after cub loss are exciting for me because I set out in 1994 to document life-long ecological profiles of female black bears in a rapidly changing landscape.
My work with bears is a life-long hobby. I am not a biologist or naturalist nor has my work (as of yet) been peer reviewed. I work as a bear viewing guide for Whistler Blackcomb ski area and as a self-taught researcher (24 years) conducting comprehensive, long-term field observations on black bears of the Whistler region.