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Black Bear Facts

Did you know that although they are called black bears, colors can range from black to cinnamon brown, silver-blue and, occasionally, even white? The white bears are called "Spirit" or "Kermode" bears.

Ten Fast Facts About Black Bears

1.  eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion, and insect larvae

2.  have color vision and a keen sense of smell

3.  are good tree climbers and swimmers 

4.  very intelligent and curious 

5.  can run up to 35 miles per hour

6.  weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds

7.  go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges

8.  usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother's sleep every other year

9.  can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18)

10.  are typically shy and easily frightened

Habitat Preservation

Black bears have lost over 60% of their historical range. As human encroachment increases, preserving large areas of undeveloped land where bears and other animals can thrive is vital.  Crucial components include adequate sources of food and water, denning sites such as rock crevices, hollow trees, and dense vegetation, contiguous travel corridors with sufficient cover for protection from poachers, harassment, and associated dangers from human development.

Avoiding "nuisance" encounters in Bear Country

Black bears are highly intelligent and adaptable. This species has a great capacity to live in close proximity to people. Unfortunately, many bears are shot needlessly because of unfounded fear and human carelessness. Led by a keen sense of smell, bears will naturally gravitate to potential food sources found in unsecured garbage, bird feeders, orchards, farm crops, beehives, outside pet food, and organic compost piles.  FOOD AND FEAR DRIVE BLACK BEAR BEHAVIOR. Therefore:

  • Properly store or secure all odorous food/non-food items.  Use plastic bags to seal in odors and store garbage inside buildings. Use electric fences around hives, orchards, and compost piles. Attach spill pans to bird feeders and hang out of reach (10 feet up). Clear away dense brush and protective cover from yard.

  • Don't surprise a bear; black bears tend to be nervous and easily frightened. They can cause injury if suddenly startled, cornered, or provoked. Warn a bear you are coming by occasionally clapping or using bells.  Use caution when hiking in windy weather, downwind, along streams, through dense vegetation or natural food areas, and when approaching blind curves where a bear may not hear, see, or smell you.

Should you encounter a black bear

  • Stay calm - DO NOT RUN (running may elicit a chase response by the bear).

  • Pick up children so they don't run or scream; restrain dog; avoid eye contact and talk in soothing voice.

  • If the bear stands up, he is NOT going to attack but is curious and wants a better sniff or view.

  • Back away slowly; if bear chomps jaw, lunges, or slaps ground or brush with paw, he feels threatened.

  • Slowly retreat from area or make wide detour around bear; don't crowd or block bear's escape route.

Note: Bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. A person is 180 times more likely to be killed by a bee and 160,000 times more likely to die in a car accident. Most injuries from black bears occur when people try to feed, pet, or crowd them. Bears will nip or cuff bad-mannered humans, as they will bad-mannered bears.  They are very strong and powerful animals; bears should always be treated with caution and respect

Information prepared by Andrea Hess
Volunteer for THE AMERICAN BEAR ASSOCIATION

More Black Bear facts

Living Smart in Black Bear Country

Camping and Hiking Smart in Black Bear Country