Can you imagine eating 400 Oreo cookies per day for weeks on end? Or 25 hamburgers?
That’s what it’s like to be a black bear during the month of September in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. In order to get ready to den for the winter months, black bears must consume vast amounts of calories during the autumn months. They need lots of fat to keep them warm while they go into their sleeping state. Despite common thinking, black bears do not truly hibernate, like marmots do. They sleep for long periods of time, but have been known to come out of their dens at times in mid-winter.
Just how much food does a bear need to eat right now? 20,000 calories per day to be exact.
I think if I were to eat 20,000 calories in a day, I’d never move again. But black bears will do this for weeks on end. It’s even more daunting when you consider the natural foods that a black bear eats — grasses, grubs, berries. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of food I eat when I’m trying to lose weight, not gain weight.
For black bears in the Rocky Mountains, it’s even more challenging. Because a common food that black bears in other parts of the country eat is conspicuously missing — acorns. Acorns are a great source of food because they contain fat and they are easy to eat great numbers of in a small amount of time.
When I worked as a park ranger at Sequoia National Park, black bears would camp underneath oak trees in the foothills, shoveling acorns into their mouths as fast as they could. They were so focused on eating that they ignored the crowds of visitors gaping at them.
This obsession with food during this time of year has a scientific name — hyperphagia. Hyperphagia means excessive hunger that translates into eating massive amounts of food.
Given how hungry they are, it’s understandable that a bear might seek out other food sources. A hungry bear looks at your bird feeder, or your garbage can, or even your grill and thinks YUM! That looks like a way I can eat lots of calories with little effort. So if you don’t want bear problems, be extra vigilant in stashing away any of these tempting things from outside your house.
Though bears are more noticeable, they are not the only wildlife in Colorado looking for extra food this time of year. Marmots, also spend these waning days of September eating as much as possible before the plants freeze and die. Unlike bears, marmots will hibernate, dropping their body temperature and going into an almost comatose state. To help their chances, they will bed down inside piles of rock in large groups.
Finally, hummingbirds will put on large amounts of weight to give them the energy they need to make the long journey to South America. If you do have hummingbird feeders, you’ll probably notice a spike in activity this time of year.
For me, I’m trying hard to take advantage of these Indian Summer days to stay active on the trails until the winter snows come. Unlike the bears, I try my best not to gain weight for the winter.