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Monday, May 22, 2017

Nearing the end of a bear family's time in their den

You all may remember that last winter (2015-16), I had trail cameras pointed at a bear den. A sow chose the den as hers for the winter. She gave birth to two cubs, a black male and a brown female, in late January.

There was little activity, aside from a red fox going halfway into the den, until April. After the cubs starting going outside the den, my cameras recorded thousands of videos and photos. I wrote posts covering the time until about the end of April, when the cubs were becoming very active. I have a list of all the posts at the end of this one.

When I'd gone through all of the footage through the end of April, I ran out of steam.

Just yesterday, I realized that we were at the anniversary of the date that the bear family departed the den last year. I wanted to finish sharing the footage that I collected before they departed.

At the end of April, a few things happened with my trail cams at the den. Two had dead batteries, and the cubs had rearranged the others, changing which way they were pointing so that the angles were ridiculous.

I knew that those things might happen but I didn't want to disturb the family in the spring to check my trail cams. The possibility of accidentally scaring them when they were playing outside the den horrified me so I stayed away from March until June.

It turns out that those cams pointed at crazy angles by the cubs were recording some fun photos and videos!

On May 2, the pair of cubs played vigorously in front of one cam which captured some great photos of each of them. You can see the clear difference in color between them in this photo.

After the photo of the pair was taken, the black cub stayed at the tree, climbing and chewing on the bark.

I love seeing his cute little face so clearly.

He already had big claws, essential for climbing.

Then Brownie came over to take his spot on the tree.

She, too, wanted to chew on the bark.

Then, Blackie practiced climbing.

At this age, their noses are so pink that they look almost like pig's noses.

The forest near their den was like a giant jungle gym.

To give you a sense of how tiny the cubs still were, here is their mom arriving to check on them. Note a cub to her left.

She led them back to the den. Do you see the two obedient little cubs on her heels? That's how they moved through the forest for most of last summer.

On the date of those photos, the cubs and their mom were still 19 days from leaving the den. The single most critical skill for them after leaving the den is being able to climb trees. They flee predators by going straight up trees very high and very fast. Often, their mom will stay at the base of the tree, charging anyone approaching it, to protect the cubs.

On the day of all those photos, the two cubs spent a lot of time climbing the trees in front of their den. Somehow, one of the cams that they'd rearranged captured it beautifully.

I made a video of their climbing. At the end, you also hear and see a common sequence. When the cubs wanted to nurse, they went into the den. If mom wasn't there, they started bawling to call her. That happened at the end of the sequence - be sure to listen for the bawling at the very start of the clip. They seemed to take several one hour breaks for nursing and rest during the day.

You can watch the video here or at Youtube.

For those of you who would like to go back and see the previous bear den posts and sightings of the family after they left the den, here are the links.

At the Den
Cubs are born
Mom and cubs snuggled in den
Fox in the Bear Den and 1st cub sighting
First Cub Sighting Outside the Den
Cub Antics after their Mom finally let them stay outside the den
Wild Cub Play #1
Wild Cub Play #2 
Wild Cub Play #3
Cub Rescue by Mom
Cute Cub Photos from early May at the Den
Photo bonanza

Last summer after the family left the den
First appearance of the family since leaving the den
Bear family near my house
One cub separated from family and was very distressed (he found them - don't worry!)
The whole family appears at watering hole

I'll be posting a few more videos about their time at the den. I'm also hoping that we get to see the mother bear and cubs before the family breaks up this spring. At the start of mating season, the mother will chase away her cubs. It's a tough phase for the cubs, on their own for the first time. In the long run, the black male will need to leave the area to find his own territory. In contrast, the brown female will take a territory close to her mother's territory and will begin raising her own cubs in a few years.


  1. They are too cute. Have you seen them this year?

    1. Not yet... I did get footage of a cinnamon mother bear with a large yearling brown cub. In early May, it appeared that the mother was already trying to cut ties with the yearling cub. She made biting motions whenever the cub came near. I don't think that pair was part of the den family. The black cub never made an appearance and the mother looked too light colored. However, their fur color can change a lot - only time will tell. I probably have just a few more weeks when there's any chance of the family still being together.

  2. Do you do anything with these photos/videos? Are you making a documentary or publishing a study?

    1. At this point in time, I have no further plans for all this data. However, I am a biologist, and I'm considering options for a bigger project with it. The hardest part is "replicating" it - (we scientists hate to make any conclusions based on one) - because finding a den with a sow and newborns in it is extremely difficult. I don't believe in collaring animals, which is why it is darn near impossible to replicate this work.

  3. Love it! Those babies crack us up
    Lily & Edward

  4. they make me laugh watching them climb. I love the one you said jungle jim and I know I can't but would like to hug one

  5. It's so cool to watch this. I'm loving learning about the bears and how they are raised. Sad that she runs them off though, I can't imagine it's easy for the cubs having been with her for so long.

    1. It is so painful that the mother must run them off... but it's the bear way, and it's worked for ages. The black male cub has the hardest road of any of them because he may have to travel hundreds of miles to find his own territory. However, he may spend the next year in this area (apart from mom) before leaving. It's sad that we can't know what happens to them.

  6. It is amazing how agile such big, heavy animals can be, but it makes sense that they start early. All that practicing pays off in "real life" when mum says HUFF and up they go :)

  7. The cubs are just adorable to watch!

  8. Wow, they really know how to skedaddle up that tree! Adorable.

  9. This is the best video, up the tree, playing together, and are they going to get names other than Blackie and Brownie? Toast and Chocolate? Burnt and Latte? Thanks so much for sharing this incredible family time with us, I can imagine the hours it took to do all the links and editing.

    1. I am not sure whether we will be able to follow these cubs in the future so I didn't get creative with their names. Both look as if they will grow up to be adults without obvious odd qualities that would make me able to recognize them. We know that the black male will leave the area eventually (he must find his own territory). So, the brown female is the one who we may see over the years. We'll see if she has distinguishing features as she approaches adulthood - and then we can name her! Sorry for the boring names for now :)

  10. Look at those babies GO! They are so adorable -- in a wild animal sorta way. Thank you so much for taking the time to put the vid and pix up! I really appreciate you sharing.

  11. Absolutely amazing pictures. I was fascinated by all of them. Just don't show them to Enzo

  12. Those cubs are seriously like teddy bears. So cool to have all those videos and photos!

  13. That was sure fun to see them climbing and trying to order take out!

  14. We have really enjoyed the little bear cubs and will go back and watch all the videos again. We hope they both have long and healthy lives. We also hope we get to follow another mom and her cubs. Without you and your cameras, we would never had had the opportunity to watch the little ones grow up.

  15. Absolutely fascinating. Amazing that like all children, their play is essential to learning life's most important lessons. As they say, play is a child's work.

    1. Amazingly, those cubs were out almost all night some nights in their last 10 days in the den, climbing trees and then descending - time and time again. It was as if they "knew" that they needed to learn very fast!

  16. it has been so fun to watch this family
    Mr Bailey, Hazel & Mabel

  17. We really enjoy watching the baby cubs! You have so many beautiful videos!! Thank you for sharing them all with us.


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