RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- With nicer weather, more people might hike out into wooded areas, but that also means they might find a bear den.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources says many bears will enter a winter den when temperatures get cooler and food is less abundant.

According to a release, this allows the animal to conserve energy, but the movement and denning behavior of bears can vary greatly across different regions of the state depending on the weather and what food is available.

DWR says there was a lack of white oak acorns in the fall, which means many bears may have gone to a den a little earlier.

Black bears can den in a variety of places, such as brush piles, cavities within trees, rock outcroppings, ground nests, debris piles, and sometimes even under porches or in unsecured crawl spaces.

Usually, black bears that enter a winter den are pregnant females that will give birth in the den or females with yearling cubs.

Male black bears may den, but they generally do not stay in one for the entire winter in Virginia due to the lack of extreme cold and snow.

DWR urges people who may come across a bear den to be careful. Activities that might result in coming across a den can include hiking, cutting firewood, clearing brush, and small game hunting.

In many cases, a female bear, especially one with cubs, will likely remain in her den unless she feels pressured to leave it.

DWR offers some tips on avoiding dens and what to do if you do find one:

  • Avoid hiking in dense brushy thickets or young cutover timber stands. If you must work in these areas, be mindful of brush piles, gullies with debris piles, or storm-damaged areas with thickets of limbs/root balls.
  • Always maintain your dog on a leash to avoid a dog-bear encounter at a den site.
  • When burning a brush or debris pile on your property, look around the entire pile for signs of digging (fresh dirt, holes) or entry routes into the pile.
  • If you notice large, excavated holes or fresh trails into debris or brush piles listen closely for the sound of cubs from a distance of at least 30 feet away. They often emit a high-pitched cry or “squall.”
  • To prevent a bear from denning under an occupied dwelling, ensure that crawl spaces, mobile home underpinnings, and porches are closed and secured prior to Dec. 1 each year.
  • If you find a den on your property or while recreating, do not disturb it or approach the area. Leave the area, and if on public property, alert an employee of the location.
  • If you inadvertently flush a female bear from a den, DO NOT approach the den. Take a GPS point of the location (or mark a nearby area with flagging) and leave the area immediately. If you have a dog with you, leash it and keep it maintained on a leash as you leave the area. Contact the Wildlife Helpline (855-571-9003) to report the den location.
  •  Most often when left alone the female will return to the den, although they may not return until night. Do not go back to the den area as additional disturbance may cause the bear to leave again and not return.