COURTENAY -- A family of bears that has been calling a hollowed-out tree north of Courtenay home for the past several days has been delighting wildlife fans in the area.

A mother bear and at least one cub have been spotted hanging out on the high branches of the tree and climbing up and down the wooden trunk.

Residents say that it appears that up to three bears, a mother and two cubs, have been sleeping deep inside the trunk of the Cottonwood tree at night for warmth. 

"Once mom gets into the little den area, the baby will go and wander over the tree," said Lisa Bell, a resident who has been making regular treks to the area.

"It's like she's got him up there and now he can go play."

Wildlife photographers say that it's rare to see the bears in action. Normally, the only views of the animals are of them fast asleep. However, one local wildlife expert says that the bears' activity is an unfortunate indication of poor health for the family.

"If a bear is not hibernating at this time of year, that normally means that they don't have enough fat reserves to last that hibernation," says Warren Warttig president of Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society.

While the tree-climbing bears offer a rare opportunity for wildlife fans to view the animals, experts are reminding people to keep a distance from the mother and cubs.

"Well, they're still wild animals, they're still unpredictable," said Warttig. "The people who get too complacent about them get tagged or they get injured."