Masthead: Kaweah Range

Bear v. Woodpecker, continued

Only 200 feet from the road, the meadow was perfect: surrounded by massive Giant Sequoias and exuberant with spring growth. Red Winged Black birds perched on cow parsnips trilling and defending their territory; a small stream gurgled through the dense vegetation. In the thick of this, I heard a small rustling and saw the high grass moving. After awhile a small Black Bear emerged on a log. He was snuffling slowly through the meadow, occasionally digging in the meadow muck and munching: tubers, bugs and grasses–a typical bear's salad bar.

To my right and just 20 feet away, a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers had been flying in and out of a hole in a dead White Fir. There was no obvious sign the bear noticed them. He continued wandering through the meadow, but his meandering path trended slowly towards the tree. Eventually he came out of the grasses and crossed a rotting log, tearing it up in several places looking for more grubs. Finally he came to the base of the woodpecker's tree and moved around behind it, then jumped up, digging his claws deeply into the bark and climbing about 20 feet up–about 10 feet above the hole. He then circled around the top of the tree and moved down, creating a heck of a racket with his claws and an occasional grunt.

  A Bear's cafeteria: grubs 'n ants while you wait.

At last he found the hole and tried to poke his nose in. Unsuccessful, he started biting around the hole and taking out huge chunks of bark and wood. Clinging to the tree with all four legs, his snout disappeared halfway into the hole and emerged. Twice.


Not a Disney Moment, of course. A sad end to the newborn birds that were likely in there–I didn't hear or see any young and the adults weren't anywhere near when the bear found it.

Hunting for Grubs: close-up of bear-torn tree. Note two claw marks at top; holes from termites in log.  

Bears are among the most adaptable animals I've ever seen. They can coexist very well with human intrusion into their habitat, even thriving as a result. Unfortunately, when they get too used to people, they start seeing houses and cars as sources of food. Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks have thousands of dollars of damage to cars each year as a result of careless visitors leaving food in their vehicles. Those same claws that can rip up a log can take out an SUV door just as easily.

Here though, and only a short way from buildings, cars and happy hikers, was a bear doing his typical bear-thing. Another great day in the woods... .

Mt. Lyell Salamander

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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer