May 24, 2012

Vegetarian bears strut their stuff

Black bear feeding on catkins in an aspen tree

Last week, I (Joel) was lucky enough to get the chance to go to Jasper to teach an interpretation course.  On the way up the beautiful Icefields Parkway – Highway 93N – I saw both black and grizzly bears feeding on early season spring food.

First up was a black bear, perched atop a slender aspen tree.  It was feeding on the catkins, or clusters of flowers, that hang down from the ends of the branches.  It's dicey work, because bears are heavy, and aspen branches are skinny.  While I watched, the bear put too much weight on one branch, and broke it right off.  The bear made a nice recovery, but it was definitely moving verrrry carefully.

Pair of grizzly bears feeding on "mystery" plants

Farther north, a pair of grizzlies, maybe a female with a three or four year old cub, had their heads down, grazing on something sprouting along the roadside.  I couldn't get a good look at what they were so focussed on, so I took some photos and a quick video and then left them in peace.  Coming back the next day, however, I stopped at the same spot and took a closer look – the mystery food was a mini forest of sprouting horsetails.  These are primitive plants related to ferns, and bears relish them in the spring.

The "mystery" plants revealed.  They are young horsetails, just sprouted.
Enjoy the photos and the video footage.  It's always a real treat to be able to safely observe bears and see what fills their stomachs.