Black Bear (Ursus americanus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family:    Ursidae
Size:    Height: 3 to 3.5 feet (90 to 105 cm)  Length: 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m)
Weight: 200 to 600 pounds (91 to 272 kg)
Diet: All types of vegetation and plant material, fish, small mammals and carrion
Distribution: North America
Young:  1 litter of 2 to 3 cubs every 2 to 4 years
Animal Predators:  Cubs are occasionally attacked by wolves, bobcats or cougars
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Cub
Lifespan: 10 to 30 years



        Found along the Pacific coast of British Columbia, the Kermode or spirit bear is a unique subspecies of black bear in which approximately one in every 10 bears is white or cream-coloured.

        Black bears are fast and skilful tree climbers as well as powerful swimmers.

        U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt captured a black bear on a hunting trip in 1902, and kept it as a pet. A toy maker used the bear as the model for the first teddy bear.


American black bears are medium-sized bears that usually have short black fur, but are sometimes brown, reddish-brown or greyish-white. Their hearing and sense of smell are exceptional. Their snout is often more lightly coloured than the rest of their fur, and they have rounded ears.



American black bears mark their territory with excretions and also by leaving claw marks high on trees. Males have a range of up to 200 square miles (321 square km), while females keep within a 35 square mile (56 sq km) radius. Males share their territories with other males, and confrontations are rare out of mating season. The winter den may be in a cave, a hollow log or a burrow.


Feeding Habits

Black bears have managed to survive in almost every area of North America, mainly because of the variety in their diets. Up to 70 percent of their diet is composed of grass, berries, and other vegetation, but they also eat insects, grubs, worms and some even catch the occasional small mammal. They are also good fishers and will climb trees in search of honey. Bears living close to parks will hang around, hoping for a chance to go through garbage left behind by campers.



American black bears mate in June and July, and the female gives birth to two or three cubs in January or February.Each newborn weighs less than a pound (.45 kg), is up to eight inches (20 cm) long, and is naked and blind at birth. Cubs make a humming sound like the purring of a cat while they nurse. The mother keeps them warm in her den until May, by which time their coats have grown and their eyes are open. She then leads them out of the den to familiarize them with their surroundings, teaching them how to forage and to detect signs of danger. A mother bear is not only very protective, but is also gentle and loving, letting her cubs crawl or jump all over her. When startled, she will give a sharp woof, telling her cubs to scramble to safety. When she is certain the danger has passed, she signals to them with another woof that they are safe to come out. The cubs become weaned at five to six months, but remain with their mother the next winter in her den. The following spring, she continues to teach them valuable lessons on finding food, shelter, and how to interact with other bears. They stay with their mother again in her den the next winter, and finally leave her the following spring or early summer.



Black bears are thought to be the least aggressive bears in North America. Few black bears ever attack people, but can be dangerous when accompanied by cubs, when surprised by the sudden appearance of humans, or when approached while feeding, guarding a kill, or injured.  Unlike groundhogs and bats, which go into a deep sleep and their body temperatures lower over the winter, bears are not hibernators. The body temperature does not drop significantly and they can wake up quickly, move around, and go back to sleep. Pregnant females sleep for a longer period of time than females who are not pregnant or males. They wake to give birth but then fall into a light sleep while their cubs play and nurse for the first few months, although mothers are alert and awake at the first sign of trouble.



In the United States, the black bear is federally listed as threatened in Louisiana and state-listed as threatened in Florida and South Dakota.



Black Bear Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York