The Black Bears of Algonquin Park
The Algonquin Park Triad
The Algonquin Park Triad referrs to experiencing an encounter and/or sighting of all of "big three" mammals found in Algonquin Park (The eastern wolf, black bear and moose).
Example: I have been to Algonquin Park and have viewed several moose, the eastern wolf & the black bear, therefore I can proudly boast I have experienced The Algonquin Park Triad.
Have you experienced the Algonquin Park Triad?
Let's Learn About Black Bears!
The Black Bear (scientific name: Ursus americanus) is found only in North America. It is the smallest of the three bear species found in North America (Grizzly, Polar and Black). The black bear is the second largest mammal found living within the boundaries of Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario.
The black bear was the final animal I spotted during my many trips to Algonquin Park, thus completing my quest to experience The Algonquin Park Triad.A video of the bear I spotted can be found further below.
This is the second entry of a three part series focusing on the big three mammals found in Algonquin Park. (The eastern wolf, the black bear and the moose). If you would like to learn about the first animal in this series of profiles, The eastern wolf, I encourage you to visit "The Eastern Wolves of Algonquin Park."
The black bear is often misunderstood, as evidenced by some of the "black bear myths" touched upon here. The black bears of Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the main reasons campers journey to the park each year. The likelihood of experiencing a wild black bear sighting in Algonquin is pretty fair, particularly in the later months of summer when the bears are gorging themselves in preparation for the winter. So let's take a look at some basic information about the black bear, followed by where exactly it lives in Algonquin and we'll bust some of the most prevalent myths regarding black bears.
Quick Facts About Black Bears
Colour: Black or Dark Brown
They are omnivores. They will eat whatever they can find.
Live in all five of the habitats found in Algonquin Park
Weight:45-70 kilograms (female) 75-150 kilograms (male)
Diet consists of 95% plant matter. This includes aspen leaves, beech nuts, cherries & acorns.
Coniferous & Deciduous forests throughout North America.
Height: Stand approx. a metre high at the shoulder. 2 metres in length.
They will eat insects, like salamanders & insect larvae found in tree stumps.
Can be found as far south as Mexico.
Face: Tapered snout with a broad head & small rounded ears.
Will prey on deer fawn & moose calves if available. Adult male bears will also prey on bear cubs.
Can be found from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast.
Why Bears Hibernate
Bears that live in colder climates will enter a state of hibernation during the colder months of the year. Black bears that live in warmer climates, can remain active for most of the winter, except when the mother is preparing to birth cubs.
During winter months when vegetation and berries are scarce, the amount of energy required to find food, versus the amount of calories they are actually able to consume becomes unbalanced and bears will become lethargic. Bears will then prepare themselves for winter by "stocking up" on as many calories as they can during the fall months and retreat to their dens for the winter. They can put on as much as 30 extra pounds of body weight to sustain them for the winter. Hibernation is a survival tactic for bears, and black bears are considered to be the most efficient at hibernating.
- Black bears in Algonquin Park typically head into their den in mid-October to late November. They emerge again in the Spring (late March or early April).
- During hibernation, black bears do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate. During hibernation the nitrogen waste that builds in their bodies is biochemically recycled and deposited back into proteins in their system. This helps to prevent muscle loss during the long months of inactivity. Their body also produces a hormone called leptin, which surpresses their appetite.
- While their core body temperature doesn't drop as low as smaller hibernating animals (it remains at approximately 35 degree's Celsius) their heartbeat does drop dramatically. Typical range is 50-90 beats per minute, however when they are hibernating it can drop to as low as 8 beats per minute.
- Black bears are not simply "in a deep sleep" for the entire winter. They can still be woken up and suddenly become active if their den is disturbed.
The video below is an interview with bear biologist Karen Noyce of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, providing a basic explanation of why black bears hibernate and how they're hibernating techniques are different from other animals.
The Five Bear Habitats of Algonquin Park
Black Bears can be found in coniferous and deciduous forests throughout North America. There are five major habitats found in Algonquin Park. The Black Bear can be found living in all five of them. The five habitats of Algonquin Park are:
- Coniferous Forest: Sometimes referred to as Evergreen forests. Coniferous forests are made up of trees that have needles that will stay on the tree for many years. The seeds of coniferous trees grow in cones.
Examples: Firs, Spruce & Pine trees.
- Deciduous Forest: Also referred to as Hardwood forests.Trees found in a deciduous forest have flat leaves, which are unable to survive without sunlight. These are the types of trees that shed their leaves during the colder months.
Examples: Oak & Maple trees.
- Spruce Bogs: A Spruce Bog is a northern habitat. They are small forests that grow successfully between small bodies of water. They are sometimes referred to as "wetlands" The ground is typically very mossy and filled with peat. It is spongy to walk on.
- Beaver Ponds: Can be created in either a coniferous or deciduous forest. A Beaver Pond is the result of a beaver building a dam in a creek or river. A beaver dam will slow the flow of water and raise the temperature in the resulting pond. The result is a pond rich in insect life.
- Lakes & Rivers: Water covers approximately 10% of the entire park. There are over 2000 named lakes in Algonquin Park. The rocks found in the lakes within Algonquin Park make up part of the Canadian shield. These hard, slow eroding rocks contribute to the lakes in the park being colder than those outside the Canadian Shield. This means less green plant life is able to survive these lakes. Lake Trout, Brook Trout and Beavers do very well in these colder waters.
Algonquin Park's Problem Bear Policy
- Nuisance bears in Algonquin are first trapped and relocated to a different area within the park.
- When conservation officers first capture a black bear, they identify the bear and document the event in a "Bear Data Collection Form".
- The black bear is tagged and released to a designated release site within the park's boundaries.
- If the same tagged bear returns to where they were captured within the same year and is causing problems, he may be destroyed. The decision to kill a black bear in Algonquin Park is not taken lightly and can only be authorized by the park's chief biologist.
- If a captured bear is untagged, the decision to destroy them without first attempting relocation will only be made if the bear is very aggressive and would pose a risk to public safety.
- If a female black bear with cubs is captured in Algonquin, it is their policy to make every effort reasonable to relocate the entire family as a unit.
Source: Algonquin Provincial Park Problem Bear Policy, via APP Wildlife Research Station
Nuisance bears in Algonquin Park
With over 2,000 Black Bears calling Algonquin Park home and over one million people visiting the park each year, encounters between humans and bears are inevitable. Thankfully, unlike the Grizzly Bear, which is more prone to attack, Black Bears are very skittish and reclusive in nature. They don't fancy the company of humans and prefer to keep themselves at a distance. If you spot a Black Bear in Algonquin, it will be more afraid of you than you of him. However, when bears become accustomed to interactions with humans, or become dependent on humans for food, the result is a nuisance bear.
Nuisance black bears in Algonquin Park are typically trapped, tranquilized and relocated to a safer location in the park. Algonquin Park Naturalists and Conservation Officers working in Algonquin Park do a fantastic job educating campers about bear safety and ensuring a safe camping experience for all visitors as well as protecting the bears. However, if a black bear has become accustomed to finding food within a campground in the park (also sometimes referred to as "camp site bears") they may sometimes find their way back to the camp ground after being relocated. Unfortunately, this may mean the bear will be destroyed.
As you can see from the video below, when a "nuisance bear" becomes accustomed to humans, they lose some of their fearfulness. During a recent trip to Algonquin Park, my husband and I spotted a black bear on the side of the highway. He had his nose buried in a blueberry bush. Though he was content to ignore the onlookers taking photographs in favour of his berry bush, he is still a wild animal with predatory instincts. After only a few minutes of observing this bear, conservation officers arrived and asked everyone to leave. A bear trap was set up in a nearby camp ground.
The video below is from my personal library. It was taken during a trip to Algonquin in August 2013. We spotted the black bear on the side of the highway 60, feasting in a blueberry bush.
Viewing black bears in Algonquin Park
If you would like to learn more about black bears, "Black Bear: North America's Bear" is an excellent source of information. It's also a great read for kids working on school reports about black bears.
Myths About Black Bears
Myth #1: To avoid an attack, you should climb a tree.
It is worth noting first of all, that violent black bear attacks on humans are rare. (They are extremely rare in Algonquin Park.) But the old saying that if you ever find yourself face to face with an angry bear, you should climb a tree and wait him out is completely false, in regards to black bears. Black bears are exceptionally good at climbing trees and do so frequently to find food. Grizzly bears can also climb trees, but not as easily or effectively as black bears. If you can get high enough in a tree, it might keep you safe from a Grizzly, but not a black bear.
Myth #2: Bears have bad eyesight
A bear's vision to similar to that of a human with 20/20 vision and they are able to see colours. They see very well at night and are very skilled at detecting movement. Bears have a reflective layer on their eyes, similar to dogs and cats (called the tapetum lucidum). This extra layer helps to stimulate light sensitive cells in their retina, which improves their vision in low light conditions.
Myth #3: Black bear mom's are aggressive when they're with their cubs
The female black bear has a reputation of being more aggressive than other bears when she with her cubs. This simply isn't true. Because black bears are such great climbers, a momma black bear can easily hide her cubs in the safety of a tree. Female Grizzly bears are more aggressive than black bears when cubs are present. Only 8% of all reported black bear attacks on humans were the result of a female protecting her cubs.
Myth #4: You should play dead if you're attacked by a black bear
Again, black bears are pretty skittish by nature and will usually disappear when they detect someone is coming. Most times, a black bear will disappear before you even knew it was there. Black bear attacks are very uncommon. However, they are wild animals with predatory instincts and attacks have happened. If you are ever faced with an aggressive black bear, never play dead. This survival tactic might work if you're at the mercy of a grizzly bear. However though they are both bears, grizzlies and black bears do not have the same fighting technique. Black bears stalk their prey silently and typically attack from behind. They are not as vocal and typically don't huff and puff the way a grizzly would. They don't often display aggressive behaviour before they attack. If you are ever attacked by a black bear, you need to fight for your life. Punch, kick, scratch, hit it with any object you can grab, sceam and make lots of noise. Never play dead during an attack from a black bear.
Myth #5: Black bears can't run downhill
This is completely and utterly false. If you are attempting to get away from a black bear, running down the closest hill will not discourage him from following you. Black bears can run over 60 kilometres an hour, regardless of the terrain.
Test Your Black Bear Knowledge
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Thanks for stopping by!
Thank you for stopping by and learning about the black bears of Algonquin Provincial Park. If you'd like to learn about the eastern wolf of Algonquin Park, you can read about them in "The Eastern Wolves of Algonquin Park". If you'd like to read part three of this series, in which we will learn about the largest animal found in Algonquin Park, check out "The Moose of Algonquin Park"
If you would like more information about Algonquin Provincial Park, including information about black bear research within the park, you can check out The Friends of Algonquin Park's website.
If you have any questions or comments about black bears or Algonquin Park, please leave them in the comments section below.