Black bears have emerged from hibernation – and they are hungry

Black bears are out and about. Ricardo Herrera of Granby snapped this shot of a bear strolling by the Inn at Silvercreek in 2022. Unlikely that he had a room there, but was looking for a meal. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds residents to be bear aware - make sure no trash/food are accessible.
Ricardo Herrera/Courtesy Photo

Black bears all over the High Country have come out of hibernation, and after six months of fasting in their dens, they are hungry. This is the prime time for bear activity.

Male bears normally emerge from their dens around mid-March; females with cubs around mid-April. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has already received 173 reports of bear activity in 25 Colorado counties this year. Wildlife officials urge residents to secure any food source that might attract a hungry bear.

As human population grows in bear country, along with a lack of natural vegetation due to drought, more bears will find themselves on the wrong side of a dumpster or garage this season.

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder or trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” Parks and Wildlife manager Matt Yamashita stated in a news release. “People who think that it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one timers’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

According to Parks and Wildlife, human-bear conflicts have increased in recent years, as bears learn humans mean access to a meal.

“Even with a lack of natural food sources, bears continue to have large litter sizes of three to four cubs, indicating they are receiving supplemental food from humans,” Yamashita stated.

Bears are omnivores – they eat a varied diet, which sometimes includes human food.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy Photo

Before settlers arrived on the scene, Grand County was home to black bears who roamed in search of plants, berries, fruits, nuts and more. At this time of year, black bears’ main goal is to find enough food to fill their bellies again after a long hibernation.

Early season natural food sources for black bears include grasses, aspen buds and other vegetation. Those gentle food sources help a bear’s digestive system and metabolism get back to normal after not consuming anything for months, according to Parks and Wildlife.

“So there is this phase that is referred to sometimes as walking hibernation, where they are out on the landscape moving slowly and eating what tends to be more vegetative material that starts to pass through their system to get their bodies ready for early summer food sources,” stated Mark Vieira, carnivore and furbearer program manager for Parks and Wildlife, in the news release. “That is when they will move back into the typical omnivore diet that we see bears eating the rest of the year.”

Over 90% of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants – native crops are all dependent on moisture. Wildlife officials monitor weather patterns in the spring and summer to help determine what forage will be available in the summer and fall.

 In years where there is good moisture and lots of natural food sources, human-bear conflicts are down. If there is a lack of natural food sources due to weather, black bears venture out in search of human food.

They follow their sensitive noses, which can smell food up to 5 miles away. Sometimes, humans make the search for sustenance too easy for these resourceful animals.

Bears love trash so make sure your containers are sufficiently closed.
DJ Hannigan/Courtesy Photo

That cute bear you took photos of peeking at you from the forest, may one day get brave and venture into your territory. Bears are intelligent animals that can open doors to get inside cars and homes with ease. Once inside, bears can even open coolers or refrigerators to ransack the contents inside.

Parks and Wildlife says that black bears are naturally wary of people, but the need for food overrides this fear, especially if they have had prior interactions around homes. If a bear has gotten into a dumpster or shed and enjoyed a good meal, they will definitely be back. When a bear becomes too comfortable with destroying property to find food, they will have to be put down.

When a black bear loses its life, that means one less bear is part of Colorado’s delicate ecosystem. Wildlife should be respected as a part of nature. Bears are only following their instinct to eat. It’s up to people to keep their property safe from damage and prevent needless loss of life. Securing your belongings means bears stay where they belong – in the wild.

There are many things people can do to prepare for a safe bear season. Parks and Wildlife has a “Bear Aware” program, where volunteers host educational booths at events, offer advice to residents, and can even make house calls.

Parks and Wildlife also provides this list of instructions people can follow to bear-proof their property and stay bear aware wherever they are:

Bear-proofing homes:

– Keep garbage in a well-secured location. Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.

– Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them free of food odors – ammonia is an effective cleaner.

– Keep garage doors closed. Do not leave pet food or stock feed outside.

– Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.

– Bird feeders are a major source of bear-human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.

– Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, haze it by yelling at it, throwing things at it and making loud noises to scare it off.

– Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.

– Clean the grill after each use and clean up thoroughly after cookouts.

– If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.

– Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.

Cars, traveling and campsites:

– Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.

– Keep the bottom-floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.

– Do not keep food in your vehicle. Roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.

– When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle.

– Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the backcountry.

– When camping in the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite. Don’t bring any food into your tent.

– Cook food well away from your tent and wash dishes thoroughly.

Protecting chickens, bees and livestock:

– Keep chickens, bees and livestock in a fully covered enclosure, especially at night. 

– Construct electric fencing when possible.

– Don’t store livestock feed outside.

– Keep enclosures clean to minimize animal odors. 

– Hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure as a scent deterrent.

For more information on staying bear aware, please visit: CPW.State.Co.Us/Bears.

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.