There's no such thing as a picky grizzly bear

February 22, 2007

A new University of Alberta study, which tracked eating habits of grizzly bears living in the Alberta foothills, sheds some light on the animal's varied diet and their activity pattern.

"Alberta bears have remarkably diverse diets," said Dr. Mark Boyce, biological sciences professor at the U of A and co-author of the study, recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy. "They'll eat just about anything."

Little is known of the diets of grizzly bears living in boreal forests also used by humans. This new research study is the most comprehensive examination of grizzly bear diet ever conducted in Canada. Using global positioning system (GPS) radiotelemetry technology and analyzing 665 feces samples collected from 18 grizzly bears over a period of three years, the scientists also found that the bears packed a lot of activity into 24 hours.

The new research looked at five different activities the bears use to find food - whether it feeds on flowers, insects and plants or kills other animals - specifically ungulates.

The diverse diets help cushion the grizzlies against climate change and other vagaries of the environment, said Boyce. Specifically, the research team found that bears living in the foothills are effective predators of moose and deer. They are especially good at killing moose calves during the difficult spring, when other foods are not yet available, said Boyce. Mountain bears are largely vegetarian, by comparison.

The scientists identified 40 different food items, examining each for seasonal patterns of use and differences among mountain and foothills environments. The root of sweet vetch plants dominated early spring diets, while preying on ungulates, was greatest during late spring, although the timing varied between foothill and mountain bears. Moose are the most common ungulate eaten by the bear (83 per cent), especially newborns (54 per cent), with white-tailed and mule deer (16 per cent) and elk (one per cent), minor in comparison.

Rodents, insects and birds were also consumed. Green vegetation dominated early summer diets and as fruit ripened in early August, berries were added to the menu.

The scientists also learned that most of the activity of the east-slopes bears takes place in the daytime, especially morning and the evening. This is in contrast to bears living in spots where more frequent contact with humans take place, such as Banff National Park, where most bear activity has become nocturnal.

Boyce said food sources so near to highways and roads are dangerous for the animals.

"Bears are eating substantial amounts of clover and alfalfa, which are common roadside plantings," said Boyce. "Because these roadside plantings are attractive to bears, this can put the bears at risk of contact with humans. Nearly all new roads being constructed in the province are built by industry, either for timber harvest or oil and gas development."

"We should encourage industry to avoid using such attractive food items when planting in ditches and roadsides. It would be much better to use native grasses and other native plants to stabilize road banks and ditches. Most bear deaths occur near roads and we want to avoid attracting bears to areas near roads."

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: A single hair shows researchers what a bear has been eating

Related Stories

A single hair shows researchers what a bear has been eating

July 28, 2015

U.S. and Canadian researchers have found they can get a good idea of a grizzly bear's diet over several months by looking at a single hair. The technique, which measures residues of trace metals, can be a major tool in determining ...

Grizzly bears feast on diverse diet

February 15, 2007

There’s no such thing as picky grizzly bears—they’ll eat almost anything they can find. A new University of Alberta study that tracked food habits of the Alberta grizzly bear living in the foothills sheds some light ...

Scientists say polar bears won't thrive on land food

April 1, 2015

A group of researchers say polar bears forced off melting sea ice will not find enough food to replace their current diet of fat-laden marine mammals such as seals, a conclusion that contradicts studies indicating that bears ...

The devastating spread of the mountain pine beetle

August 27, 2014

When the mountain pine beetle began blazing a path across forests in British Columbia and Alberta, nobody could have imagined the extent of the damage to come. But as the insect devastated pine forests and disrupted communities, ...

How fussy pandas maintain a balanced bamboo diet

July 22, 2014

( —Pandas are famously fussy eaters, but new research suggests there is method to their madness, with the animals switching between different species and parts of bamboo plants to maintain a balanced diet and reproduce.

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

October 9, 2015

A team of scientists from the University of Chicago and the Pennsylvania State University have accidentally discovered a new way of using light to draw and erase quantum-mechanical circuits in a unique class of materials ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.