Bear sign

Bear-moved rock and Jack

A few weeks ago I noticed that a couple of the large rocks that sit beside the trail in our back fields had been shifted out of the ground. These are not small rocks, as Jack demonstrates, and there’s only one animal that would have done this: a Black Bear. Although we’ve never seen a bear around here in the couple of years we’ve lived here, we know they’re around just from the sign they leave. Shifting rocks is one of the easiest and most frequently spotted. Bears typically flip or move rocks to see what might be living underneath. Anything that doesn’t get out of sight quickly enough is fair game, but typically ants and grubs would be among the most common food items found this way.

Bear?-dug hole and Raven

I’ve also noticed a few random holes dug in the grass which I’ve wondered if bears might have created. They’ve been in the areas that I know the bears have been traveling, so it wouldn’t be a stretch. A number of weeks ago, around the time that I noticed the holes appear or maybe just before, we’d had some flights of citronella ants, so I wondered if the animal had been digging to unearth citronella ant colonies. Could they smell anything else from the surface? The other possibility for these holes is that they were made by skunks, which also root around in the earth looking for food. I don’t know enough about the physical sign of skunks to be able to say what their holes look like, though the photos I turn up on Google look a little different.

Scat photos coming up, so those grossed out by that sort of thing might want to stop reading here… :)



Bear scat - eating black cherries

The discovery of bear poop on the property really drives home that these animals have been passing through unseen, though. I found the first pile a few weeks ago. Dark, and filled with some sort of reddish fruit that I couldn’t readily identify. Nothing that I knew was fruiting at that time seemed like a good match. However, something someone posted to Facebook about the same time commented on finding bear scat with black cherry remains in it, and in Googling that it looks like that might be what this is. The reddish bits are the skins, and the lighter things are the pits. I tend to forget about wild cherry species because they’re usually in the woods and their fruit aren’t especially showy.

Bear scat - eating apples

Then yesterday, as I was heading out with the dogs, Dan suggested I check out a pile of scat he’d noticed on one of our trails. It hadn’t been there the day before, so the animal that had left it had passed through overnight. It was also bear, simply from the size of it. What was curious about this was that it was full of apple skins – prodding it with a stick to break it apart so I could examine its contents, it even smelled strongly of apple.

We’ve got a small grove of apple trees near the house, and Dan commented that he’s heard animals eating the apples there on occasion in recent evenings, and the dogs certainly show an interest in something that’s been foraging there when they’re let out the next morning. Could it have been the bears? There are also a couple feral apple trees on the 100-acre woods and no doubt our neighbours’ properties, so they could easily have been feeding there, too.

Bear (cub?) scat - eating apples

Not far down the trail there was another little bit of scat. This was darker, and quite a bit smaller, but it was just as full of apples as the first one was. The only other wildlife that I know for sure will eat apples is deer, and they, like most herbivores, create pelleted droppings, not tubular. Omnivores and carnivores typically create tubular droppings, and of those candidates the size of this could perhaps be raccoon. Would they eat apples? I don’t know; they’re pretty opportunistic.

What I actually thought these might be, though, given their proximity to the other scat and the identical content, were the droppings of a bear cub; the larger pile would be from its mother. Bears give birth in late winter, Jan-Feb, and by the early fall they’re already weaned from their mother’s milk. However, usually they’ll stick with her for another year, learning how to forage and live on their own. Females only mate every second year, with the between year being used to continue raising their half-grown cub.

I don’t worry that there are bears around, even mama bears with cubs, because, as the Peterson Field Guide to Mammals says, “Many are killed in the misguided belief that they pose a threat to humans. Black Bears are usually shy and retiring and very seldom dangerous.” If there is a bear around, no doubt she’ll have heard me and departed looong before I even realize there’s one in the area, if I ever do. Instead, I just find the sign she’s left behind.


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

13 thoughts on “Bear sign”

  1. I think it’s exciting to know there are black bears on your property. (I’d feel differently about grizzlies, however!) When we hiked in Alaska a few years ago, I had fun poking around in every pile of scat we found. My husband thought I was nuts, but I looked at it as a learning experience. ~Kim

  2. Having run into numerous black bears here, including mothers with cubs, I can second what Peterson’s says: they’re no threat whatsoever. And in fact a joy to watch — hope you get that pleasure soon. (Watched a bear in an apple tree just this past weekend, down in West Virginia.)

  3. Hi! I found your page by googling for scat images for wild animals in Ontario. I’m at my parents in Bancroft, they have 80+ acres. They are pretty sure they have a bear who lives in the far reaches. Today I was walking the main “road” from the quonset hut, and saw several small piles of scat, with obvious berries, but one pile also seemed to have a bit of grey/black fur. It looked a lot like your top picture, but also one I found of fox scat. It’s a little spooky to think of a bear so close to where we’re splitting firewood, and our dogs are running free, but at the same time, also really neat!

    1. FYI…Black bears r afraid of dogs…so if u enjoy camping in the North Country with Black bears, make yourself known…if they have been desensitized to humans by people-food-smells, people thinking they can get close and pat them, etc then it becomes a tragic problem for the bears; Conservation Officers (COs) from your Fish & Game State Dept. will have them tagged (on their ears) and track them by gps….if they alarm too many people with their presence near homes or congested people areas, these animals will be removed to a different location and the cubs r left to fend for themselves and will not survive the winter on their own. Mammas will return to find their cubs, very sad…many r not found…and the mom roams in the same area she was removed from. If you know Black bears r in your backyard, just let them be. It is the safest thing you can do to protect them. I am an observer. If u closely observe Mother Nature, she will kindly provide u with a lot of answers right before your eyes!… She is AMAZING

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  6. Found the same kind of “droppings” in my backyard. At first I thought it was a bear but I live in the city ! Then I googled it and found your picture !! Same thing !! Worst is that I found it not even 200 feet from the house !

    1. they r present in the Spring and Fall in my yard tall pine/hemlock grove …they r very hungry especially these 2 times of the year>>>
      Sometimes they wake from hybernation if the days are too warm and they search for food >>>> usually they can go back to their dens to finish sleeping for the winter>>> but if there r too many warm days they will remain awake and can”t get back to sleep>>>and if they can”t find enough food to survive till Spring, they will starve to death (because most food supplies are gone by the time snow is on the ground & it won”t be till next Spring till food starts growing again each food source (berries, seeds, grasses, acorns, apples, pumpkins, etc) all have their own particular growing seasons not plentiful in the Spring when the bear needs it NOW if they can’t return to finishing their course of hybernation.
      There is so much that can be learned about Black bears in New England through your local Fish & Game Dept. run by each State. They offer courses, books, videos, clinics and you can call a game biologist to answer specific questions you may have. A State Park or Federal National Park Ranger if you like to camp, can answer a bunch of questions & tell you how to be safe if you r a hiker in bear country. FYI: if you kill or pepper spray a Black bear in NH, you will be investigated and may serve jail time and very expensive $$$$ fines. Black bears can be provoked by people & hunters and like any wild or domestic animal or person… they will defend themselves. They are generally thought to be terrorizing demons in the forests because of hollywood movies and peoples’ fear of an animal larger then themselves possessing large teeth and nails… Black bears should be treated with respect….let them know you are there and they will be there timid selves and move away from you…keep a safe distance when observing them….they don’t like the sound of pots & pans with lids banging together & they don’t like dogs…!!! Do not come between them & food or between them & their cubs….observe, know where they r (with a flashlight …not in their eyes), make noises,,,whistle, talk outload…loudly & let them know where u r & they will get out of your path….they will appreciate your gesture….once you do these things, they will be to judge if you r too close to them for comfort they will then leave. If they are enjoying being at their favorite tree base with their cubs & know you r present, their cubs will scatter up a big pine tree with lots of branches and mamma bear will either stay at the base of the tree ready to protect their cubs or she will know her cubs r safe up the tree at a decent height and will go into brush cover watching you & yet staying close enough to her cubs if they r threatened by you….she can run fast…especially on flat ground and up hill. I think it’s like 30 mph….that’s why Im saying, keep a safe distance & know where your escape is. RESPECT. Observe. Be smart. Think what u would do if u were her. Remember, she is a timid bear. I’m not a wildlife biologist, I am not an expert. I am a property owner on 2+ acres and our family has enjoyed Black bears under our hemlock/pine grove for 30 yrs. They r a joy to observe. I would not invite them to a picnic or into my house for some honey thou my bird feeder on my upper deck to the front door to my house had 2 cubs at it in the early Fall a few years back while mamma bear was safely off the grassy lawn looking up at her troublesome toddlers jumping up on my 2×4 hand rail on way to the feeder when I didn’t know they were there & came out onto the porch….boy! did they hit the deck & run!!! Two balls of black fur bounding past my legs & down the steps!…Little theives (hahaha) they never did that again! and I didn’t have to do a thing to scare them though it surprised the heck out of me!…. : )

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