Being Bear Aware- Hyperphagia by the Numbers

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Mueller

By Rebecca Ferrell
CPW Statewide
303-866-3203 x4608

Twenty chicken sandwiches, 10 large orders of french fries, 10 soft drinks and 10 milkshakes. That’s the approximate fast-food order needed to total 20,000 calories, the amount Colorado Parks and Wildlife says a hungry black bear needs to consume every single day as they pack on the pounds to build up their fat reserves to survive winter hibernation.

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While Coloradans are enjoying the sights and sounds of autumn, bears are reaching the peak of hyperphagia, an instinctive metabolic response to the changing seasons. Hyperphagia triggers a “feeding frenzy” to gain much-needed fat storage to help ensure winter survival. Bears will continue their intense search for food for up to 20 hours per day through mid-December, or when natural food sources are no longer available. As colder autumn weather brings frost and freezing to the state and natural food sources begin declining, bears may look to humans for easily accessible meals.

“Since early April, our staff has received nearly 5,000 bear incident report calls, and over half of those have been about bears finding food sources,” said CPW Interpretation and Wildlife Viewing Coordinator Mary McCormac. “If given a choice between foraging for food for 20 hours or getting all the calories needed from a few dumpsters in one alley, which would you choose? Bears are extremely smart and will try to get as many calories as quickly and as easily as they can before denning for the winter. That really puts it on us as humans to be responsible with our property, especially our trash.”

With the need to quickly build fat reserves, bears will seek out food sources that provide a higher caloric intake such as fallen fruit, nuts and especially the types of meals found in your trash can or bird feeders. Giving bears easy access to food allows them to become overly comfortable in populated areas. This often leads to bears becoming more aggressive and increases the possibility of a dangerous human-bear conflict.

“This time of year, CPW fields dozens of calls each day regarding bears turning over trash cans, entering homes and showing little to no fear of people when looking for food,” said McCormac. “The only reason we get so many of these calls is that people are being careless; not locking their doors, not securing their trash, keeping bird feeders out and generally not being careful when they know bears are looking for an easy meal. Living responsibly with bears is everyone’s responsibility.”

Bearproofing homes, cars and other personal property not only helps keep people safe, but it can also prevent conflicts and even the needless death of a bear. Below are the easy steps people can take to protect bears:

Keep Bears Out

  • Close and lock all bear-accessible windows and doors when you leave the house, and at night before you go to bed.

  • Install sturdy grates or bars on windows if you must leave them open.

  • Keep car doors and windows closed and locked if you park outside. Make sure there’s nothing with an odor in your vehicle, including candy, gum, air fresheners, trash, lotions, and lip balms.

  • Close and lock garage doors and windows at night and when you’re not home; garage doors should be down if you are in the house but not outside.

  • Install extra-sturdy doors if you have a freezer, refrigerator, pet food, bird seed, or other attractants stored in your garage.

  • Remove any tree limbs that might provide access to upper-level decks and windows.

  • Replace exterior lever-style door handles with good quality round door knobs that bears can’t pull or push open.

Get Rid of Attractants

  • Don’t leave trash out overnight unless it’s in a bear-proof enclosure or container. Be sure to research all local ordinances and regulations if vacationing.

  • Clean your trash cans regularly.

  • Don’t store food of any kind in an unlocked garage, flimsy shed, or on or under your deck.

  • Don’t leave anything with an odor outside, near open windows or in your vehicle, even if you’re home. That includes scented candles, air fresheners, lip balms, and lotions.

  • Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck, cleaning your grills after each use. Don’t allow food odors to linger.

  • Only feed birds when bears are denning for the winter. If you want to feed birds when bears are active, bring in liquid or seed feeders at night, or when you leave the house.

  • If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe. Don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground. Electric fences provide good protections for small orchards.

Teach Bears to Remain Wild

  • If a bear comes close to your home, scare it away. Loud noises like a firm yell, clapping your hands, banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn sends most bears running.

  • Utilize electric fencing, unwelcome mats and scent deterrents like ammonia to teach bears that your property is not bear-friendly.

  • If a bear enters your home, open doors and windows and ensure it can leave the same way it got in. Don’t approach the bear or block escape routes.

  • Never approach a bear. If a bear won’t leave, call your local CPW office. If a bear presents an immediate threat to human safety, call 911.

For more information on the best bearproofing methods for your home, visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Living with Bears page or visit cpw.state.co.us.