Outdoors

A Maine black bear’s balanced diet

Posted Sept. 03, 2013, at 12:37 p.m.

The following are the top 10 black bear foods in Maine by Randy Cross, wildlife biologist and field crew leader in the state’s Bear Research Project. But to preface the list, Cross said, “Even if the bears voted on this, there would be much disagreement among them due to regional and annual differences in availability.”

 

1. Greens — This is by necessity the broadest category of foods, literally including dozens of species of green vegetation. A few of the preferred greens are aspen and beech buds in early spring, sedges, clover and jewelweed.

 

2. Strawberries — Typically the first berry available to bears in early summer and high in carbohydrates.

 

3. Colonial Insects and their eggs or larvae — Primarily certain ant species, but also bees and various wasps and hornets.

 

4. Raspberries — A very important source of carbohydrates in northern Maine and quite well distributed across black bear range.

 

5. Blueberries (high and low bush) — Not well distributed over parts of Maine, but a clear favorite where they do exist.

 

6. Blackberries — Not readily available across large portions of Maine. Bristly Sarsaparilla produces a black-purple berry in clumps that locals often refer to as “bear berries.” These grow in sandy soils (prominent in downeast locations) and where they are common, bears focus intently on these easy-to-forage berries for a week to 10 days in late summer.

 

7. Wild Cherries — Primarily chokecherries and pin or fire cherries.

 

8. Beaked Hazelnut — Abundance varies annually but the plant is well distributed across black bear range in Maine.

 

9. Mountain Ash Berries — A very important food in the late fall, when abundant in northern part of the state.

 

10. Beech Nuts — Not a reliable food source. For many years, very few are available and many of our beech trees are succumbing to a bark disease.

 

Honorable mentions: Meat (often winter-killed animals), apples, sweet corn, oats, cranberries, non-colonial insects and acorns.

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