Bear activity on the rise

Published 6:29 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Numerous species of wildlife become more active as seasonal changes trigger various physiological responses.
Some species migrate and others increase their movement patterns mostly in efforts focused on the propagation
of their species. Many species perform this annual ritual including songbirds, butterflies, and even bats, but
none cause quite the commotion in Alabama as that of the black bear.
While typically not a common sight in most of Alabama, a flurry of black bear sightings throughout the State
has been the case this year including areas of Holly Pond, Double Springs, Boaz, Cullman, Birmingham,
Roebuck, Lake Harding, Auburn, Atmore, Mobile and Macon County. However, most people may not know
that black bear are common in parts of Alabama; occupying an array of habitats, some quite close to humans.

The southwestern section of the state in Mobile, Baldwin, and Washington counties is occupied by the Florida
subspecies of the American black bear. The majority of the bears in the state are the Florida subspecies, which
is not an uncommon sight in the counties listed above. Black bear sightings north of this latitude are typically
black bears of the Eastern subspecies. While they are not as abundant, their distribution is typically associated
with the southern boundaries of the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama.

Black bears of the southeast are, as the name states, black, with a brown muzzle and sometimes they have a
white patch on the chest often referred to as a blaze. They stand about three feet high at the shoulder and range
in weight from 150-350 pounds for adult males and 120-250 for adult females.

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While classified as a carnivore, black bears are actually poor predators and are more omnivorous, mainly
concentrating on vegetative matter for the bulk of their diet and are quite opportunistic in monopolizing
abundant food sources. Common food sources include fruits, berries, and acorns of a variety of native shrubs
and trees, but bears will sometimes take advantage of agricultural crops such as corn, wheat and sugarcane.
Occasionally, they will also damage apiaries in their quest for honey.

By nature, black bears are shy, reclusive animals, and will frequently flee at the first sight of humans. Most
sightings occur during the spring and summer as adult male bears greatly increase their range of up to 40,000
acres in search of receptive females. Younger bears also become quite visible as they are dispersed from the
territories of other adult bears and in search of establishing a territory. Either situation exposes the bears to
unfamiliar territories and often to hazards such as highways. One bear met its unfortunate fate this year as a
vehicular mortality on I-85 near Tuskegee, Ala.