Here’s a young spring bear cub photo from the recent photo trip I led to Katmai National Park and Preserve. This youngster had 3 siblings, and it was a real treat to get to see them play and tumble together. Catching a photo of one by himself, without the others in the frame, was more difficult than one might guess it would be.
Last year, for some reason, there were not too many spring cubs in the area at all, but this year the area was home to quite a few. They’re such a blast to photograph, and oh-so charismatic. Each has his/her own character, and some of them are unbelievably plucky little critters. We watched one take quite a dunking from his mother, after he tried to steal a salmon from her. She grabbed him in her mouth, shook him back and forth like a rag doll, and literally buried him in the river. I thought ‘well, that’ll teach the little guy a lesson’ – Hardly! He came up growling louder than before, grabbed the fish in his mouth, and took off with it before his mother could even snap at him. They’re just way too cute!
These little baby bears are born in the dark of winter, tiny and defenseless. Their mothers-to-be enter a den in late fall, usually anywhere from late October through November. Brown bears almost always enter their den during a snow storm, or immediately before a snow storm. The theory most folks ascribe to is the snow storm will cover both the entrance and the tracks leading to the den, hiding both the bear and the den’s location.
Late January or early February, though sometimes as late as March, the cubs are born, blind and virtually helpless. Tiny, they may weigh as little as 20 ounces and be only 10 inches long, nose to tail. Bear cubs don’t hibernate, but sleep next to their mother, waking to nurse and going back to sleep by her side. Bear cubs grow rapidly on the rich fat of their mother’s milk, and might weigh as much as 20 pounds when they emerge from the den, usually between 2 and 3 months old.
This youngster, above, is probably 7 months old. Already, he and his siblings (their were 4 cubs in this litter, though 2 is more common – the number usually depends on the size of the mother during gestation) follows his mother mile after mile in search of food. Brown bear sows with spring cubs do stay around the den a little after they emerge in the spring, but only for a few weeks. Then it’s walk, walk, walk, and walk some more, constantly searching for food. It’s pretty amazing how well these young cubs do keeping up with their mother.
The cubs will stay with their mother for 2-3 years, before heading out alone. Sometimes, siblings will stay together during the first couple of years they’re away from their mother. It’s not uncommon to see 2 young subadults traveling together, though they rarely den together more than another year or 2.
At this age, they aren’t quite yet adept at catching their own salmon, but this little fellow, and his siblings, were always watchful, alert to their mother’s success. Every time she caught a fish, one or all of the cubs raced over to her and grabbed what they could of the fish. Pretty impressive how quickly a 30 pound cub could demolish a 5 fish and instantly be ready for more.