The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) sent out a point of information on what is occurring in Pennsylvania’s quiet forests right now.
What they speak of is the many female black bears who are in a den and have not had anything to eat, drink or have defecated since fall and are awakening from their winter hibernation to give birth. Their den could be in a cave, an outcropping, underneath a boulder, even in a hole produced by an uprooted tree. Some may even den-up under a deck of a mountain home and often unbeknown to its owner.
According to the PGC, a female bear gives birth to from one to five cubs, with three being the most common. The cubs weigh just eight to ten ounces at birth and with unopened eyes and having almost no fur on their bodies, are typically born the first few weeks in January. The cubs are kept alive by their mother’s warmth and rich milk. Bear milk, says the PGC, has a fat content of nearly 30 percent and may be the highest of any land mammal.
After about six weeks, the cub’s eyes open and in about two more weeks, they walk. They’re able to leave the den when they’re three months old and are weaned by seven months. By fall they usually weigh 60-100 pounds.
Many moons ago I, along with my 9-year old son, had the privilege of accompanying Gary Alt, the PGC’s bear biologist at the time, on a known female bear den site inspection. The purpose was to check the den for the number of cubs inside, weigh and measure the mother and her cubs, plus place ear tags on the female and her cubs.
To do so, Alt, crawled partially into the den and with a poke stick, stuck the female bear with a tranquilizing dart. Waiting a few minutes for the dart to take effect, Alt along with his assistant, pulled the 300-pound plus female out of the den to weigh, measure it and take milk samples from its teats. Alt showed us how thick the milk was that appeared to be the consistency of sour cream.
Before removing the cubs, Alt allowed me to crawl in the den to take some pictures as the three cubs were cuddled together. Alt then crawled in to bring out the cubs to process them.
When the processing was completed, Alt placed the cubs back in the den then pushed the female back in but not before putting Vicks on her nose. The purpose of that was so she didn’t smell human odor on the cubs, which she could reject them if she did. It was a nature experience I nor my son will never forget.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s black bears and their management check https://bit.ly/3CIQdN3.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is once again asking the public to report any sightings of wild turkeys to them. This is a statewide effort to provide information on annual survival rates, annual spring harvest rates and other dynamics.
The public is asked to provide the date and location of the sightings plus the type of land (public, private or unknown) where the birds were seen.
According to the PGC, crews will visit those sites to assess the flocks reported, to determine the potential to put leg bands on male turkeys statewide. Turkeys, they say, will not be moved as they’ll simply be leg banded and released on site in four Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) and some will also be outfitted with GPS transmitters. Then released back on site to be monitored over time. Trapping turkeys during winter is part of the PGC’s ongoing population monitoring as well as a large-scale turkey study.
According to Mary Jo Casalena, PGC’s turkey biologist, “This data will give us information on annual survival rates and annual spring harvest rates for our population model and provides the person reporting information on when and approximately where it was banded.”
She goes on to explain that just like the last three winters where leg bands were put on male turkeys statewide and when hunters harvest one of these birds or people who find one dead, the PGC asks that they be reported along with the leg band number be either calling the toll-free number or emailing the PGC using the email address on the band. New this year, the leg bands will have a website on them for direct reporting the information into the database.
The PGC will attach GPS transmitters to a sampling of turkeys in WMUs 2D, 3D, 4D and 5C and on approximately 150 hens and 100 males. The four areas have different landscapes, turkey population densities, spring hunter and harvest densities.
Casalena added, “We’re studying turkey population and movement dynamics, disease prevalence and other aspects that may limit populations. And these studies are being done in partnership with Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Futures Program.
The study will also focus on the population and movement portion of the work on how landscape and weather impact hen nest success, poult survival, predation, habitat and movement. The disease portion of the study involves examining how disease prevalence varies on landscape, and how it impacts things like the survival and nesting rates of hens and different ages. This, says the PGC, is accomplished by collecting blood, tracheal and skin from turkeys that receive backpack style transmitters at the time of capture.
This turkey study will continue next winter for both males and females and continue through 2025 for hens, so that in the end, the PGC will monitor more than 400 females and more than 200 males.
Says Casalena, “This is the largest turkey project we have ever conducted with the hope of answering many questions regarding current turkey population dynamics. But finding birds to trap is the key to accomplishing the work. And this is where the public comes in as they even helped with monitoring sites and trapping last year.”
To report sightings between now and March 15 go to http://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/TurkeyBroodSurvey.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.