It’s rare to watch a bear trying to awaken from a six-month slumber. But it’s happening right now at Glacier National Park, in northwestern Montana.
From over 350 feet away, rangers have positioned a live webcam upon a lofty black bear den — a sizeable hole some 50 feet up in a cottonwood tree. The bear was first spotted poking its head out of the winter den on March 23, and has been seen there every day since.
According to the park, vigilant cam watchers have seen the bear scampering around the tree’s branches or even traversing down the trunk. But the bear, whose sex is still unknown, returns back to the confines of its winter den. Although it’s early spring, the time that black bears begin awakening from hibernation, the live feed shows that it’s still snowing quite a bit, so perhaps the bear has little incentive to go searching for vegetation.
Black bears’ diet consists largely of grasses, roots, tree shoots, and berries, along with the “the occasional carcass,” according to the park.
National parks have increasingly embraced live webcams to connect with public audiences, many of who don’t have the ability to easily access locations where truly wild, charismatic animals live.
One of the most popular wildlife webcams in the world happens to be of large brown bears in remote Katmai National Park. In that case, the bears converge upon the salmon-rich Brooks River in July. At times, the screen captures over a dozen bears fishing the river, although many more lurk outside of the frame.
Unlike brown bears (who are basically grizzly bears that eat lots of fish), black bears are avid tree climbers, so it makes sense that some black bears choose to hibernate in trees.
Hibernation — which is an adaption to long periods of famine — can vary considerably for bears, depending on where they are. Black bears in Mexico might hibernate for a few weeks, whereas bears in Yellowstone National Park will hibernate for around five months.
During hibernation, bears dramatically lower their metabolism, heart rate, and breathing. According to Katmai National Park, hibernating bears breath just once a minute and have a heart rate of eight to 10 beats per minute. During this time, the bears don’t defecate, urinate, eat, or drink.
It’s no wonder the Glacier National Park black bear has been seen licking snow off the tree: After months without drinking, it’s probably incredibly thirsty.