LEFT Bison calves can keep up with adult bison two to three hours after birth. BELOW Fox kits in den opening. Normally nocturnal, nursing mother foxes will sometimes emerge from the den in daylight hours to obtain enough food for her growing offspring.
Give Yellowstone’s spring babies the best chance of survival, and ensure your safety, by keeping a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other wildlife.
HOW TO OBSERVE SPRING BABIES
tumble off, boop boop boop! He’d go back to sleep and they’d climb back on and continue their play, until he’d roll the other way and they’d all tumble off again.” The hormones prolactin and oxytocin rise in pack members when puppies arrive, giving adults a nurturing disposition. “He seemed to have all the patience in the world that day,” Baron says.
Although Yellowstone’s myriad young wildlife can be viewed throughout the spring and summer, here are a few tips on ideal places and times to view some of the more popular animals.
Bear cubs are notorious for play, even if their shenanigans are exhausting for mom. “Single cubs are often bored because they don’t have anyone to play with,” says Baron, of a mother grizzly and her lone cub. “This cub kept running up behind the sow and jumping on her back. Each time she would swipe at it and scold it. Finally mom gave in and decided to play, running ahead and jumping behind a big rock to surprise the cub. They repeated this until the cub got so excited it ran right at her and jumped right up on her face! Game over. Mom laid the cub down, spanked it three times, and walked off into the woods.”
Newborn bison calves, often called “red dogs” because of their orange fur, are easily spotted in Hayden and Lamar valleys in April and May. Bear cubs, born in the den during the winter months, are visible in May and June in the Tower, Lamar Valley, and Hayden Valley areas. Look for spotted elk calves running along with mom in Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison Valley in June.
Survival as a young animal in Yellowstone is akin to walking a tightrope. Regardless of parenting strategy, almost all mother animals are fiercely protective of their young. It’s important to give wildlife their space, says Gunther. Getting in between a mother animal and her young, or disturbing them or blocking their path is not only dangerous for people and the animals, but can separate mother from young, leading to dire consequences for the baby.
Wolf pups are sometimes seen in May if the den is visible from the road; otherwise more commonly viewed in June and July in Lamar and Hayden valleys. Bighorn sheep lambs are often seen in May and June along cliff edges in the Gardner Canyon, confluence of the Lamar and Soda Butte rivers, and Barronette Peak.
There’s so much to enjoy while keeping a safe distance. Baron’s favorite time to enjoy spring babies is late evening. “Park where there are no people at all. Take a scope, or binoculars, sit near the vehicle or in a little spot near the road, and just enjoy the evening light, the sounds of the babies talking—especially the baby bison and their mothers.” Who knows what you might see.
Jenny Golding is a former director of education for Yellowstone Forever. She currently runs the website A Yellowstone Life, and writes from her home in Gardiner, Montana, on the border of Yellowstone National Park
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