Black Bear

Ursus americanus

Black Bear
Photo: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences.

The black bear is the smallest and most common American bear. In the wild they are generally shy and wary of human contact. However, the strong, stout limbed animal can be very quick, agile and dangerous. They are not aggressive but will protect their young and food if they feel either is endangered. Their keen senses of smell and hearing compensate for the poorer sense of eyesight. Although classified as Carnivora, black bears are truly omnivores, roaming both day and night to feed. Black bears are called “shallow hibernators” or “semi-hibernators” because their body temperatures drop only a few degrees and body functions do not completely shut down. They can be roused or become active during the winter. If not enough body fat is stored, a bear may remain active during the winter to feed. Bears have few enemies, except dogs and traps set by humans.

Large, stout animal. Fur coarse; black, brown, cinnamon and variations in between; whitish patch on the throat or breast. May be nearly white in Canada. The “Blue” or “Glacier bear” found near Yakutat Bay, AK, is probably a color phase of the black bear. The face in profile is flat and always brown. A minute tail. An individual may live for 30 years.
Large, 5 toed print, roughly human in shape but wider; seven inches long. Large claws leave prints wherever the toes do. Claws on forefoot are same length as those on hind foot.
Stand 3 ft at the shoulder, 5 to 6 ft in length and can weigh up to 500 lbs., usually 200 to 400 lb
Forests and swamps in the east, mainly mountainous/forested areas in the west, from upper edge of forest down to 1000 ft in elevation; may invade fruit orchards. Den is in a rock crevice, base of a hollow tree or large fallen log.
They are found throughout the US, from Canada to Mexico.
True omnivores–they feed on berries, nuts, pine seeds, roots, fruit, underground fungi, fish, mice, ground squirrels and occasionally ground nesting birds and their eggs. Most of the diet consists of insects, especially ants and beetle larvae. May also eat carion and garbage.
Bears mate in summer; one or two cubs are born in winter den during January or February. Normally 2 cubs, occasionally 3, weight 7-10 ozs. Cubs nurse and grow as female remains in a lethargic state, relying on stored fat for milk production. Females breed only every other year.
Voice varies from a loud growl when fighting to a woof-woof warning cubs of danger, or a whimper to call cubs.
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