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Understanding Yearling and Adolescent Black Bear Behaviors

Black bear yearlings come in all shapes, sizes and personalities, but they all have two things in common, an adolescent brain and limited experience in the world. On top of that, they are naturally a very intelligent and inquisitive animal. 

In the black bear world, cubs are born while the mom is denned in January.  They leave the den in March or April and stay with mom, while learning the about the world until May or June of the next year when family breakup occurs. 

Family breakup happens suddenly in May or June when mom is nearly ready to mate, triggered by a rise in hormones.

Family bonds remain strong right up to the day of family breakup. In the days before family breakup, they play together, groom each other, sleep together, and suckle. Like human youngsters, yearling bears sleep very soundly, trusting their safety to the alertness of their mother. 

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Then, suddenly, mom chases them away. If the yearlings refuse to leave, they are continuously chased off and possibly swiped at by mom, causing minor injuries, til they get the idea that mom no longer wants them around. Family breakup can be traumatic and could possibly be pivotal for how yearlings react to other bears and situations for their entire lives. 


Black bear yearlings are about 16 months old when they are set free on the world in this way. Just like human adolescents, this population has outliers. Some yearlings are terrified of the world when family breakup occurs and spend the entire first month of their freedom in a tree, coming down only to eat and drink-at a fast run while on the ground. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the yearlings that were ready to leave mom half way through their first summer as cubs-who needs mom, right? Then you have have those in the middle of the fear factor range. Every bear’s personality is different, so each young black bear handles family breakup in their own way, with different degrees of fear, or lack thereof, leading the way. 

To the black bear yearling, the world is new, scary, exciting and dangerous. There are many things to explore, and unfortunately, they have to make many mistakes to figure out how it works. 

When you add in having friends in the same “mom-free” situation as you, every day can be full of non-stop playing, eating, sleeping, swimming, and exploring-alone or in small groups.

Yearling brothers Doug and Jim begin playing. 2-year-old Ty and yearling Boy join in. Older, bigger Ty manages to wear the younger bears out one by one. All in good fun!

My favorite neighborhood tale is when a resident had their clothes on a clothesline.


Picture being of “young black bear mind” and never seeing such a sight before. Wouldn’t you want to check it out and play with it to figure out what it is? Well, this resident watched as a group of yearlings decided this was an amazing opportunity to play with those mysterious objects flapping in the breeze. 

Image by Dmitry Arslanov

Upon seeing what was being done to her clean laundry, the resident marched out to save it. She grabbed the clothes off the clothesline and walked back to the house with them. 

This situation ended in a priceless vision of a parade, consisting of a woman followed by several yearlings-who couldn’t understand why their new playthings were being taken away-marching to the house. 

Young black bears can be mischievous, curious, and get into things and will investigate most things “new” in their world. Put anything you don’t want them to have inside. Keep in mind they are young, playful, mom-free for the first time and they are all figuring out their own way in the world.

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