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From Under the Deck

Live Bear Cam 2023

The Game Commission and HDOnTap are pleased to bring back the opportunity to learn what goes on in a den with a female black bear and her cubs. This time from Pike County in Northeast Pennsylvania. People should not approach hibernating bears because disturbance can lead to den and cub abandonment. Enjoy! And remember, nature can be difficult to watch.

Why don't we name them?

Black bears are wild creatures, and it is important for us to keep them wild. Please refrain from naming the sow and her cubs to respect them as wild animals.

Do Not Disturb

Please respect the privacy of the bears and the landowners, to whom we are extremely grateful for their enthusiastic cooperation in allowing us to share this peek into the lives of black bears. People should not approach hibernating bears because disturbance can lead to den or possibly cub abandonment. Bears are wild animals, and like all wild animals can react defensively if they feel threatened. While black bear attacks are very rare, it is important to respect the space of all wildlife to prevent negative encounters.

The Camera

This is a top-notch camera with audio and infrared illumination (night vision) provided and powered by HDOnTapOpens In A New Window. It is controlled remotely and can pan, tilt and, zoom.

Where is the bear?

Being under a residential deck is not an unusual denning situation for this region of the state. The sow and cubs are generally not a threat to the residents, nor are the bears affected by the normal human activity around this home. When she leaves with the cubs, she will most likely head out to the large, wooded area behind the home where she'll find a place to teach the cubs to climb and search for food.

What is that sound?

The sound of a nursing cub sounds like a purring car that just won't turn over. You might hear a cub bawling. Sows communicate to their cubs with low grunts, huffs, and mumbles. You may hear water dripping from snow melt, birds chirping, and the occasional passing of the human residents.

How many cubs are there?

Let us know how many you see. Litter sizes range from one to five, with three most frequent in Pennsylvania. Females give birth in the January while in the winter den. Newborns are covered with fine dark hair, through which their pink skin shows. At birth, they are about nine inches long and weigh 10 to 16 ounces. Their eyes open after about six weeks. A female black bear generally raises one litter every two years. In most cases cubs den with their mothers for their first winter. Most females breed for the first time when 2½ years old

What do we know about this sow?

This is a new site. If you see ear tags, let us know!

Bear Dens

While this female black bear found this space under the deck of a residential home a suitable den, winter dens could also be a hollow tree, an excavation resembling a bear-sized groundhog hole, a rock crevice, cavity under large rocks, in a nest on top of the ground in thick cover like mountain laurel, or under brushpiles and fallen treetops. Bears line their dens with bark, branches, grasses, and leaves. Females tend to select more sheltered sites than males. Males den alone, as do pregnant females (they give birth in the den). Females with first-year cubs den with their young. To our knowledge, an adult male has never been documented in a female’s den. Adult females will, on rare occasion, den with their yearlings and cubs.

Cramped Quarters and Dormancy

Black bears can squeeze into surprisingly small spaces because they lack collar bones, so typically if they can fit their head in a space, they can get their body in as well. In winter, bears den up and become dormant. They lapse into and out of a deep sleep, from which they can be roused. Body temperature decreases by 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (from a normal 100 degrees to about 88 degrees), and metabolic activity slows more than 75%. Heart rate and respiration slow down as well. This helps the bear keep its fat reserves as long as possible, including into the early spring when food is still scarce. Movement is limited, so as not to expend much energy while in the den. Sows will move and adjust with the cubs now and then. Males and lone young adults will occasionally rouse from sleeping and wander on the landscape.  They do not urinate or defecate while dormant and form a fecal plug with fibrous material that is expelled at the end of the denning period.

They are getting dripped on!

It is not uncommon for female bears to use dens with less overhead shelter than they have under this deck. Although females with cubs tend to use more sheltered dens, many frequently den in the open with only a few twigs overhead. Cub survival is high in both situations. If a den gets too wet during the spring thaw, the sow may move the cubs to a dryer location nearby.

Ear Tags

The Game Commission monitors bear populations statewide by tagging approximately 700 bears each summer, and then watching for the recovery of those tags in the fall harvest. Each county in the primary bear range is assigned a tagging quota so that tags are well-distributed across the state, and Game Commission staff in those counties work toward that quota each summer. Some bears are captured in nuisance situations. Some bears are captured for research purposes and to meet the tagging quota, without any history of being a nuisance. It is impossible to tell the reason for capture without looking up the tag number.

Tags are made of stainless steel and look silver when first put on a bear, but dull to a brownish tin color as they weather. The tags crimp over the top leading edge of the ear, close to where the ear attaches to the head. Tags are about ½-inch wide and 1½ inches long. A unique number is stamped on each tag, along with the words "PA Game Commission". In other states, tag color and style or number of tags may signify something, but not in Pennsylvania. 

Numbers on the tags are generally 4 or 5 digits long and tags in a bear's ears are typically consecutive. Any bear that is captured, regardless of the situation, receives one of these tags in each ear. Both ears are tagged in case one tag would get lost. Seeing a bear with only one tag simply means that the other tag missing. If a bear is recaptured with only one tag and a replacement tag is added and the numbers will no longer be consecutive. A bear with a tag in each ear could have been captured once or multiple times.

Generally, lower numbers are older bears. The warden in this region once recaptured a bear that was 35 years old.

Collared Bears

Game Commission biologists only radio-collar bears for research. For example, the Game Commission currently has one active bear research projects using radio-collars. If you see a bear with a radio-collar, it means that bear is being monitored to help answer a question considered important to the overall management of Pennsylvania black bears.

What happens when they leave?

The sow will leave with the cubs when they are about three months old (typically by early April in this region). There might be activity just outside the den for a while, but once the sow decides to go, she typically doesn't come back. She'll take the cubs to a wooded area and create a daybed, around which she'll teach them to climb trees and find food. They'll be weaned by about seven months old and by fall should weigh 60-100 pounds. In many cases, cubs den with their mother for their first winter. Eighty percent of cubs make it through their first year.

Living in Black Bear Country

If you're out at dawn or dusk, or where hearing or visibility is impaired (roar of fast-moving water, thick vegetation), reduce your chances of surprising a bear by talking or making noiseLearn more about what to do if you encounter a bear. And learn about preventing human-bear conflict at www.bearwise.orgOpens In A New Window.

2021 Wrap-up

A different sow denned at the same location that had been streamed in 2019. It is believed that the 2021 sow entered the den site early during January. It was during this time that the homeowners noticed the skirting they had placed around the deck had been pulled away in the far corner. On January 18, the homeowners recorded audio of cubs and reported it to the Game Commission's Northeast Region Office. Soon after, a camera was set up and began streaming during the first week of February. For a short time, viewers enjoyed watching three cubs grow  and interact with the large sow.

The sow and her three cubs departed the den late in the evening on Wednesday, March 24.  

2019 Wrap-up

The sow and her single cub departed the den site late on Thursday, April 11. Watch the video below.