Are You “Bear Aware”?
Florida black bear populations are on the rise, but so are human populations. Here in Central Florida, we have one of the largest populations of bears and people. As we continue to develop land and bears continue to grow in numbers, we will have continued bear human conflict. Here are some tips on how to safely coexist with the Florida black bear.
1. Know your basic bear facts
Knowing the basics about this animal is the first step to being Bear Aware.
Size: Males weigh up to 450 pounds, females weigh up to 250 pounds.
Diet: Bears are omnivores. Their diet is 80% plant material (especially acorns and berries), 15% insects, and 5% meat. Bears eat about 5,000-10,000 calories every single day. In the fall, when bears are bulking up for winter, they will eat 20,000-30,000 calories each day. Bears spend a lot of their time eating food or looking for food to eat.
Habitat: Male bears have home range sizes of 50 to 120 square miles. Males are very territorial.
Cubs: Cubs are born in January/February. They remain with their mother until the next August. The mom then “kicks them out” so that they find and establish their own territories. For the year and a half they are with their mom, she will teach them every possible survival skill. Mother bears are fiercely protective of their cubs.
Senses: Black bears have ok eyesight, similar to ours. They have amazing hearing – those big ears are great at picking up sounds. The best sense a bear has is its sense of smell – bears can pick up individual scents from a mile away!
2. Bear communication and YOU
Bears want to avoid confrontation 90% of the time. Most bears will avoid you before you even know they are there. If confronted, they will try to run, hide, or climb.
If you come across a black bear, look for these warning signs:
- Huffing, ears pinned back, stomping, bluff charge, jaw popping
- Note: A bear standing is not an aggressive posture, but a curious one.
When bears display warning signs, take the warning! Give the bear space to run, hide, or climb, because this is what the bear usually wants to do. Back away slowly, but remain facing the bear. Raise your arms and make yourself seem bigger. Speak to the bear in an assertive, loud, calm voice. Clap and yell “Go away bear!”
Never play dead. If a bear does attack, fight back to the best of your abilities.
Remember that female bears are very protective of their cubs. If you see cubs, know that mother is nearby. Leave the cubs alone and leave the area.
3. How to deter bears from your neighborhood
Bears are attracted to our neighborhoods by their sense of smell. They follow their nose to easy food sources, such as our trash cans. Bears do not linger in neighborhoods if they do not find food. Properly storing or securing garbage and other attractants is a proven method of preventing bear conflicts around homes, neighborhoods and businesses.
Things that can attract bears:
A 30 gallon trashcan is a huge meal for a bear. With that amazing sense of smell, they can pick up the scent of bread, meat, candy, dog food, fruit, and more. A full trashcan can be enough to feed a bear for a full day.
Bird seed and any other wildlife feeders:
Anything that you use to attract birds, squirrels, or deer, will attract a bear as well. Bird baths are a great way to attract songbirds but not bears. If you must have a bird feeder, keep the bird seed bag inside your house and bring your bird feeder in at night.
Pet food and bowls:
Keep bags of pet food inside. Clean out bowls daily. Even if there is no food left in a dog bowl, a bear can smell the remnants.
Barbeque grills and smokers:
Clean grills after each use. Again, even if there is no food on the grill, the smell of the remnants can attract bears.
Pets and small livestock:
If a bear is nearby, always keep your dog secure. An electric fence is a good way to keep bears from your livestock.
Outdoor freezers, refrigerators, etc.:
Bears can easily open a fridge or freezer. They can smell what’s inside, and will do whatever it takes to get to it.
Open garage doors:
Many bears have come to associate open garage doors with food. Many people store outdoor refrigerators, dog food, bird seed, and more in their garage. It only takes one time of a bear going into an open garage and finding food for them to continue to search for food in garages.
Remember, being bear aware is a neighborhood wide effort. You can be bear smart, but if your neighbor is not, you will both have a bear problem.