Nov 212013

Black bear strolling on Raddin Road in Groton this AugustJames Desrosiers

Black bear strolling on Raddin Road in Groton this August

When Chris Campbell glanced out the parlor window of her Main Street home in Groton a few weeks ago, she was shocked to see a big face staring back. It belonged to a black bear, peeking in at her.

“Wow … It was like being in a zoo, and felt like we were the contained animals!” she reported on the Talk About Groton email list late last month.

Close encounters with large wildlife are increasingly common to town residents. Bear sightings are on the rise and so are concerns that such encounters might pose a threat. “Maybe a bit dangerous for children waiting for the bus or for a city gal walking a dog…?” wondered Campbell. “Beautiful animal, though.”

The black bear, Ursus americanus, is the only species of bear found east of the Mississippi. Much smaller than its more fearsome and carnivorous western cousin the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), black bear females can range between 100-180 lbs. and males significantly larger — 150-300 lbs. Most of their omnivorous diet consists of plant and small animal matter, like berries, roots, nuts, and insects. Black bears are also voracious foragers which eat whatever is at hand, including carrion, and will sometimes hunt fish and small and medium-sized mammals. In areas that are covered with oak forests, like most of New England, acorns are a staple. And in rural towns near forests, like Groton, bird seed in feeders, garbage, and pet food are also on their menu.

Kristin Cianci had the same type of experience as Campbell on November 4, off Deerfield Drive. “I was coming home about 1:40 p.m. when I came upon this big guy. At first, he started to walk away when he heard the car. I stopped to get a good look and take a picture. He then turned and started to come toward the car. When I drove off, I looked and saw him sitting on his butt eating berries off a tree on the curb of the road. It was quite a sight to see,” she wrote in an email. “

We may want to change our neighborhood name to Bearhaven instead of Deerhaven!”

Black bears have home ranges of familiar foraging grounds, often overlapping with those of neighboring bears, ranging from 11 square miles for a female to about 120 square miles for a male. While young adult females generally stay in proximity to their mothers’ range, sub-adult males will roam for tens of miles to find an adult range far from their birthplace. These young and inexperienced males are those most likely to wander into unusual places, like dense suburban and even urban areas, and concern human residents, according to the UMass Cooperative Extension.

Local bear sightings are up, and so is the population in Massachusetts. After being virtually wiped out in the state between the 1800s to the 1950s, the Massachusetts bear population has rebounded from about 100 in the 1970s to about 3000 in 2005. This has been in response to increased legal protection, the return of farmland to forest and changes in forest structure, and increased availability of food, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The species’ range has increased as the population grows and returns to historical habitat, “Black bears are doing very well in Massachusetts and have a growing population that is expanding into the central and eastern parts of the state,” said Trina Moruzzi, a biologist with the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.

Although they evolved as forest-dwellers and excellent climbers, many black bears have adapted to live at the outskirts of human development. Bears that learn to forage for birdseed, honey, corn, garbage, and other delicious human commodities risk becoming acclimated to human presence. The killing of bears drawn into regular contact with humans by their reliance on garbage led to the popularization of the saying “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

NRWA Program on Living with Bears

Tonight, Thursday November 21st, the Nashua River Watershed will host a seminar on Bears in Massachusetts, with MassWildlife biologist Trina Moruzzi. The lecture runs from 7-9 p.m. at the NRWA Resource Center, 592 Main St. (Rt. 119) in Groton.

Black Bear in DeerhavenKristin Cianci

Black Bear in Deerhaven

“The Black Bear has recently increased its presence within our watershed and has become a thrilling sighting for wildlife enthusiasts and the general public,” said NRWA Classroom Director Stacy Chilcoat. “The bear is easily misunderstood due to the depiction of the species in television and movies and the highlighting of bear encounters in other parts of the country. As educators for a healthy watershed, we see this opportunity to make the public more aware of these amazing animals, their habits and behaviors, and better understand how to deal with bear encounters.”

The lecture will cover the natural history and habits of our local bears and how to safely coexist with them, as well as the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s approach to bear management in Massachusetts. According to an NRWA news release, “Registration is required. We expect this will be a popular program, so register early as space is limited and plan to arrive by 6:45. Seats for pre-registrants will be held until 5 minutes before the presentation begins, then will be given to walk-ins. To register, please contact Pam Gilfillan, NRWA Development and Outreach Associate, at (978) 448-0299, or email”

According to the UMass Cooperative extension, bears are most likely to come into conflict with humans in the food-scarce periods of spring and late summer and fall, especially during years of low wild nut and berry yields. Though generally shy and fearful of humans, black bears can damage human developments, generally apiaries, corn crops, and sometimes domestic stock.

Are black bears dangerous to people? As large and wild animals, bears should be treated with respect and caution. Black bears will generally display when threatened, which results in human injury extremely rarely. The vast majority of “nuisance” bear activity involves no contact, and the number of incidents involving problem bears diminishes when managers limit access to artificial food sources and educate the public on bear behavior. “Black bears are extraordinarily tolerant of humans, even under substantial provocation,” reports a MassWildlife FAQ on bear control.

Bears enter a period of intense feeding in the fall, trying their best to pack on the pounds before entering their winter hibernation dens in October and November. The flurry of local bear sightings in recent weeks is likely linked to an annual last-minute feeding frenzy, when bears spend as much as 20 hours a day foraging for food and can pick up as much as 30 pounds of body fat. We can expect sightings to decline significantly till bears emerge in March or early April.

In 2012, an especially mild winter led to hungry bears foraging the suburbs through the winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that 2013/2014 will be a warmer-than-average winter, hitting its coldest peak late in the season. That could mean more bear activity this fall and early winter, and hungrier bears come spring.