Black Bear Courtship

Male Black Bear stalks coy female trying out all his best pickup lines.

A male and female bear may spend days courting each other before mating. Initially, a male suitor trails his prospective mate from a distance, smelling her daybeds and sniffing her urine to analyze how receptive she is. At first, she may run away, playing hard to get. But in time she allows him closer and closer. If she is afraid – males are bigger and potentially dangerous – she may charge him or swat him with her paw, especially if it is her first time. Males rarely retaliate, but bide their time. When contact is made, the bears nuzzle and chew on each other’s head and neck and may even wrestle a little.

Although the female is in heat for a number of weeks, she will only allow a male to mount her when she is most receptive, during the three to five­ day period in the middle of her estrus cycle. During mating, the male and female become almost inseparable, mating repeatedly in the ensuing days. The act itself is repeated many times, each time it takes only a matter of seconds, but the pair stays locked together (sometimes breaking for a nuzzle or bite on the neck/back or just walking about) until the next bout. Copulation normally lasts 20 to 30 minutes, but may last up to one hour or more.

Estrus females are frequently pursued by more than one male. If another male arrives during the courting ritual, the males may challenge one another for dominance or they may fight if they appear evenly matched.

Infanticide among bears is natural but rare. Boars that encounter sows with cubs will sometimes kill the cubs to initiate estrus and breeding. Sows, especially grizzlies, are very protective of their young and will fight back fiercely. The male’s responsibility ends with copulation; they do not participate in the rearing of offspring.

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