One of the things I found most interesting about observing grizzly cubs is that they seem to possess none of the bravery of their parents. As soon as they lose sight of their mother, they stand up on their hind legs to frantically look for her. And as they look around anxiously, they make strange guttural sounds that are the bear equivalent of a puppy whimpering, or a toddler crying “Mom? Mo-om? Moooo-oommmmm? Where ARE you?”
The sow, on the other hand, was usually investigating something as a potential food source. Since bear cubs nurse for two or even three years, in addition to eating a variety of plants and animals, it’s essential that their mothers find enough nourishment to sustain both themselves and their offspring. And that can be a full-time job and then some, depending on what’s seasonably available in their range.
I observed a cycle of events that went something like this:
- Mom enters the scene with her cubs by her side
- Mom pauses to look around and sniff the air
- Mom sees (or more likely, smells) a potential food source at a distance and makes a beeline to investigate
- Meanwhile, the cubs get bored and start playing with each other
- Mom rounds a corner, or disappears in tall grass or bushes, while the cubs are still distracted
- The cubs eventually stop wrestling and realize they have NO IDEA where mom went
- They stand up on their hind legs to try to spot her
- They may run a few yards in the direction she was traveling in before they lost her. Sometimes they spot her by doing this, sometimes not
- If not, this is usually the point when the wailing commences. If mom doesn’t show up, the wails may become louder and more frantic
- Finally, mom hears the wailing and/or decides it’s time to go back to round up the kids, and backtracks until she finds them
- As soon as the cubs spot mom, they run up to her immediately
- As overjoyed as the cubs are to be reunited with their mom, the feeling isn’t always mutual. The sows I observed weren’t particularly demonstrative when their foraging was interrupted. Rounding up cubs takes time away from food-finding. A wayward youngster was likely to get “scolded” with a grunt or a growl or even a gentle cuff of the paw to remind them to pay attention and not get lost again.
A few minutes later, the entire ursine drama would replay in its entirety.
The silver lining of this scenario, at least as far as human observers were concerned, is that we got the opportunity to photograph cubs standing on their back legs, and in a variety of different poses, each cuter than the last.
“Go on, mom. Get lost! The cubs will be just fine…”
Anywhere she darn well pleases!
This grizzly cub is SO small, and the late summer meadow has grown SO tall, that the cub can barely see over it, even standing on its back legs!
Grass, sedge, fireweed, lupine and cow parsnip are just a few of the plants blocking the cub’s view of its mother.
A grizzly sow leads her cubs across a meadow. Just like human children, the cubs are easily distracted. A bug, a bird, a new smell…the cubs stop to investigate, but mom doesn’t vary her pace, and then the cubs have to run to catch up with her again.
Grizzly cubs stand on their hind legs for the same reason the adults do: to get a better look at their surroundings.
A grizzly cub stands transfixed as his mother digs for razor clams at low tide.
Why, the better for digging clams, my dear.
Grizzly cubs accompany their mothers and learn to forage by imitating her example. When the tide was out, the sows would come down to the mudflats to dig and eat razor clams. The cubs enjoyed digging in the mud and eating clams too…as well as splashing around and chasing each other and having boxing and wrestling matches…and even napping in the shallow water!
It’s hard to say who was more entertained by their antics, the cubs themselves, or the photographers watching them!
What kid–or cub–doesn’t love going to the beach on a summer day?
A grizzly sow and her cub graze together in a sedge meadow. Cubs will stay with their mothers and nurse for two or even three years, but they also eat what she eats.