If bears had birthday parties, they’d all be in January and February. That’s when winter dens across New York State turn into nurseries as most pregnant black bears give birth to cubs weighing in at less than a pound that would easily fit into your hands. Human moms would probably envy a mother bear’s ability to give birth to one, two, or three or more tiny cubs while half-asleep.
Even though cubs are born with their eyes closed, unable to hear or smell and weak and uncoordinated they instinctively find their mom’s nipples and start nursing. Soon the den will be filled with mom’s snores and the happy sounds of cubs humming and purring while they snuggle up to mom and their siblings and fill their bellies with a steady diet of rich, warm milk. Bear’s milk has a fat content around 33%, so nursing cubs have no problem gaining weight.
Over the next several weeks, cubs will keep eating, sleeping and growing and eventually start cautiously exploring their winter quarters. As winter slowly gives way to spring, their eyes will open, their teeth will come in and the fine hair they’re born with will be replaced by fur coats.
To find out how many cubs are usually born, what a very large litter could mean and more fascinating facts, keep reading at BearWise.org
Photos, from above: three cubs by Emily Carroll of Pennsylvania Game Commission; and Bear biologist Adam Hammond examining a newborn bear cub courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources.