FROM THE DEN AND BACK AGAIN,
CANADIAN ROCKIES ANNUAL, VOL. 4
By Niki Wilson
A year in the life of the remarkable grizzly bear.
Sitting over a bowl of soup in a backcountry cabin in Jasper National Park, I would have missed the grizzly had I not looked up. His massive hump rolled side to side as he passed by the window without a sound. Lifting his nose slightly as he walked, he was perhaps scanning for food – maybe even picking up the steam wafting from my minestrone. After sniffing around the cabin clearing, he disappeared down an adjacent trail, pausing once to smell a tree at the trail junction.
Though heaps of bear scat and tracks in the mud had let our group know bears were in the area, it was a gift – and random luck – to actually see one move through the meadow grass and over logs as if he’d committed them to memory. Over the past months, he’d likely travelled hundreds of kilometres, making a living on a landscape that can be both bountiful and harsh. Grizzly bears are incredibly well adapted to this life, endowed with keen intelligence and unique physiological traits that allow them to survive the seasons. As research techniques advance, we’re learning more and more about how they live.
Here are some highlights from a year in the life of a grizzly bear.
Leaving the Den
Most grizzly bears (GBs) leave the den between March and May, but it depends on snowpack and temperature. If it’s cold and there’s tons of snow, there’s likely no food. Might as well hit the ecological snooze button and stay put.
Spring is time for rooting around, especially for the roots of sweet vetch (Hedysarum). No problem: the GB’s hump is a powerful muscle perfectly designed for excavating. Later in the spring, grizzlies will eat more meat than at any other time – mostly moose (especially calves), followed by deer and elk. But they’ll take what they can get. Rodents, insects (primarily ants), and birds are also snack food. One study found that GBs in the foothills of Jasper National Park eat twice as much meat as those in the adjacent mountains.
→ Keep reading this piece in Volume 4 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.
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Niki Wilson is a science writer based in Jasper. She writes for publications like BBCEarth, Canadian Geographic, Motherboard, and Natural History Magazine.
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