SILVER CITY - What would a bear den in the wild look like?
"Create a picture and envision what you expect a bear den to look like," said Bob Wild, naturalist at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
Would it be a cavernous dwelling made of clay or a hollow log among the tall, green grass? Perhaps it's in a hollowed-out tree with a door like Winnie the Pooh?
Stacey Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
From left, Passaglia siblings Cameron, 4, Grace, 9, and Emma, 13, pose for a photo in an abandoned bear’s den in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Saturday evening. The Passaglias were visiting from Chicago.
"There's always a few who think (it's a Winnie the Pooh) tree," he said.
The bear den tour was part of the Porkies Memorial Weekend events.
"It's not very far off the road," Wild said to a group of more than 35 people Saturday who were eager to take the bear den hike. "The woods, to me, feel like good bear habitat."
Wild led the hike Saturday while sharing information about bear biology, what the bear that may have lived in the den was like and where bears are located in the wild.
Carefully, the group of people moved slowly through the forest, stepping around mud piles and small ditches of water. Just a few feet away was a large tree with roots coming up out of the ground. Between the roots, a large, hollow area could be seen, perfect for the many kids in the group to climb through and sit in for pictures.
Wild said the den likely housed a female bear who probably only stayed for a short time. Wild said the den was unique because it is surrounded by yellow birch trees growing on top. Yellow birch seeds germinate well on old, decaying wood. There used to be a stump in the vicinity and it appears a yellow birch seed fell onto the stump as the stump was decaying. As a result, the roots shot out of the stump and onto the ground.
"The old stump is long gone," he said. "It has decomposed now but what that leaves is an exposed root system."
The yellow birches were so large that a bear would only need to separate the roots slightly for two bears to sleep comfortably, he said. The den was discovered because a deer hunter's blind is located several feet from the bear den. The hunter was sitting in the woods when she saw the bears in the den, scaring them.
"It was a female and her young bear from the previous winter," he said.
The black bears, the only kind native to Michigan, were average- sized, with the baby weighing between 80 and 100 pounds and the mom weighing 150 pounds. Wild said the bears abandoned the den site as bears will usually only use their dens once.
"It's uncommon for a bear to use its den site multiple times," he said. "A female may have certain restrictions."
Female bears give birth in the winter and mating season is usually in May and early June, so those bears look for cozy, sealed-off and warm dens because they wake from winter hibernation to give birth.
"That's a neat den site," he said.
Many den sites are holes excavated by the bear, lined with plant material and sealed off at the opening, he said. Because bears hibernate all winter and don't even wake to defecate, they look to have comfy den sites.
"Females are a lot pickier about their den sites than males," Wild said. "Males simply drop where they're at and fall asleep."
Wild also passed around a bear skull and a black bear skin and took questions from participants about hunting bears and what to do when seeing one in the wild.