Bears are packing on the pounds before the winter hibernation, which means it’s time for humans to pack away unsecured food sources, like trash, bird seed and domestic fruit.
Every year, bears enter a stage of hyperphagia, also known as “food frenzy,” as they prepare for hibernation. During this stage, interactions with humans can increase slightly as bears try to consume 15,000 to 20,000 calories – or 14 to 18 McDonald’s Big Mac combo meals – each day.
“They’re feeding about 20 hours a day,” said Bryan Peterson, executive director of Bear Smart Durango. “So they’re eating machines right now.”
Bears have been in the area for thousands of years, and their natural diet consists of native fruits, seeds and nuts.
For bears, hyperphagia, or extreme hunger, is a biological mechanism that allows them to pack on hundreds of pounds as they prepare to survive winter in their dens, said Jamin Grigg, a senior wildlife biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“Bears will remain localized if they find a good food source, or will travel dozens of miles if necessary in search of a better food source,” Grigg said.
Human-bear conflicts can increase in frequency during the food frenzy. In La Plata County, 76 people reported bear activity to CPW since July 1. Zero incidents have involved an attack or aggressive behavior, CPW said.
A city like Durango can be an attractive option for hungry bears, particularly with trash cans that smell like a feast and fruit trees ripening in August and September.
Bears are also highly intelligent and have a long memory for foraging areas. That means when they find a high-calorie human food source, and don’t experience a negative consequence while there, they remember that spot and will likely return.
Of the 76 reports to CPW, 23 were sightings, 14 related to outdoor food sources, and 33 were about bears getting into trash.
In a recent video posted by the city of Durango, a bear ambled around a carport and knocked over a wildlife-resistant trash can in an unsuccessful attempt to find food.
One CPW incident involved a bear-pet encounter, while another had to do with a bear-livestock incident. CPW also learned of a bear that got into trash and a vehicle during the same incident, apparently looking for food, according to the agency.
In 2020, someone caught a similar incident on video, showing a bear casually opening a truck door, knocking over a cooler and leaving with a bag.
Once a bear becomes accustomed to being around people and relying on easy meals found in trash cans, the probability of conflict increases, along with the likelihood of the bear needing to be relocated or put down, according to the city of Durango.
Bear Smart Durango and CPW offered several tips to help reduce wildlife-human conflicts.
- Remove food sources, like bird feeders. Bringing them in at night can help, but bears can also find them during the day, Peterson said.
- Clean barbecue grills after each use.
- If you have fruit trees, you can expect to have bears show up. Picking up fallen fruit can help, or people can sign up for seasonal fruit tree gleaning through The Good Food Collective.
- Keep trash cans inside until the morning of pickup.
- Install electric fencing around chicken coops and beehives.
- Learn more about bears through an online webinar series hosted by Bear Smart Durango. The series focused on being safe and recreating in bear country.