, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 823-835
Date: 02 Nov 2010

Seasonal migrations of black bears (Ursus americanus): causes and consequences

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American black bears frequently abandon their home ranges in late summer and move to feeding areas to fatten themselves for hibernation. We examined seasonal movements of 206 radio-collared bears in north-central Minnesota during 1981–1990. We exploited the variability in this long-term data set to test tradeoffs for animals leaving their home range. Late summer movements were common for both sexes and all ages (39% of females, 44% of males), but were variable from year-to-year in prevalence, timing, and destination. Bears typically left their summer home ranges in August and returned ~6 weeks later in September or October. Most traveled southward, where acorns were more plentiful (median = 10 km for females, 26 km for males; maximum = 168 km). These facultative migrations were most common when rich resources were available outside home ranges. Bears were least apt to leave when foods were scarce in their home range, possibly sensing a risk of migrating during a widespread food failure. Among females, those whose body mass was close to a reproductive threshold were most prone to migrate. Migrating bears were less likely to be killed by hunters, suggesting that they were especially vigilant.

Communicated by M. Festa-Bianchet