The bears you may encounter in Massachusetts are black bears, the most common of the three bear types that live in North America. Black bears grow to about five feet tall and can weigh 100 to 600 pounds.
Approximately 80 to 85 percent of a black bear’s typical diet is plant material, while the remaining 15% is made up of animal protein. Black bears will eat almost anything, such as grubs from a bumblebee nest, bird eggs, ants, voles, grasses, and berries, making them omnivorous. Bears may forage up to 20 hours a day during autumn, increasing their body weight by 35% in preparation for winter. During this time they enter “hyperphagia,” which literally means “excessive eating.”
Black bears live solitary lives except when they are courting mates and rearing cubs. Cubs are usually born in the spring and stay with their mothers until they are about 2 years old. They become sexually mature at about age 3, but usually don’t breed until age 5.
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
Although black bears have historically shied away from humans, they may wander onto human-inhabited property, primarily looking for food.
Take these steps to keep them away:
- Eliminate all food sources from your yard. Secure open compost piles, clean up spilled seed from bird feeders, clean and put away grills, and bring in all pet food remnants and containers if companion animals are fed outside.
- Store garbage in a shed or garage between garbage collection days. Put out garbage the morning of garbage collection day rather than the night before.
- Firmly secure your garbage containers with bungee cords or purchase bear-proof garbage containers.
- Limit bear access to beehives, orchards, and farm fields by installing electric fencing or heavy-gauge fencing with barbed wire.
- Install motion light sensors and use loud radios.
If you run into a black bear:
(Please note: These tips are for encounters with black bears only. If you are traveling in areas where other types of bears may be present, seek information and advice about how to handle bear encounters in those regions.)
A bear encounter can be scary. These animals are most dangerous when they are accompanied by cubs, are feeding or guarding food, are injured, or are startled by the sudden appearance of a human. Bears who have frequent exposure to humans in campgrounds or around garbage dumps are less fearful and can be more dangerous. If you are in an area where you know bears may be present, carry hot-pepper spray with capsaicin as the active ingredient (if legal in that state). If sprayed from 7 to 10 feet away, the repellent irritates the eyes without permanently injuring the animal.
Take the following steps if you spot a bear:
- Stay calm and never approach the bear, but keep your eyes on them and hold your ground. This may be all that is necessary to de-escalate the situation.
- Wave your arms and appear as big as possible.
- Make noise by banging objects or by shouting in a human voice. Do not imitate a bear’s growl or other animal noises.
- If all else fails, throw things at the bear to get the bear to move on.
- In the unlikely event that the bear bluff charges, experts advise standing still since the bear usually uses this bluff charge as a warning before turning and moving off. If attacked by a black bear, be aggressive and fight back.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
As with all mammals, bears can contract rabies.