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Black bear mamas don't get much sleep in winter

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Time to skoden

In the summer as we are enjoying warm weather and sunshine, black bears are making babies.

It’s not until winter, as the female bear is cozy in her den, that the one to three nearly bald cubs are born. They are very tiny and weigh about as much as a Pop-Tart.

Although we may think the bears are sleeping through winter, mother black bears are very busy giving birth and then feeding and taking care of their newborn cubs. The momma bear may lose a third of her weight nursing the cubs.

By the time she leaves her den in the spring, the bear cubs will have grown to about five pounds – not much more than a big cottontail rabbit or a couple of chickens. The baby bears keep drinking milk until their teeth arrive later in spring. Then they start to eat solid food like their mother, but will also keep nursing until the fall.

The cubs will den with their mother in the winter and by 1 year old weigh about 80 pounds. The cubs stay with their mother through the spring and much of the summer until she chases them off to live on their own. By then, they are about 17 months old.

Female cubs will live in the same area as their mother, but young males often seek out new places to live.

Black bears can live 15 to 25 years. They are adaptable animals, living in many places across North America. Although they are all called black bears, some have different colored fur – like brown, cinnamon and blonde.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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