Frequently Asked Bear Questions

How many black bears are there in Minnesota?

The reclusive nature of black bears makes a precise population count difficult. However, based upon hunting success studies and biological marking censuses, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that there are approximately 12,000-15,000 black bears in Minnesota.

What do black bears eat?

Approximately 75-85% of the black bear diet is vegetable matter. Common foods in northern Minnesota include clover, dandelions, chokecherry, pin cherry, sarsaparilla, wild plum, blueberry, cranberry, hazelnuts, acorns, wild oats, and the larvae of ants, bees, and hornets. Black bears are not very effective predators, but they will occasionally catch and eat fawns, moose calves, and beaver. Bears are also attracted to human foods at campgrounds and garbage dumps when natural foods are scarce.

What is the legal status of the black bear in Minnesota?

It is legal to hunt black bears during the fall hunting season with a permit issued in a lottery. The Minnesota DNR initiated the current permit-quota system.

How are black bears hunted in Minnesota?

Baiting is the most common method of hunting bears in this state. Hunters are permitted to place a cache of food in a clearing 2 weeks before hunting season begins. Hunting bears with hounds is not permitted in Minnesota.

Do black bears mate for life?

No. Black bear males and females come together only during breeding season. A female may mate with several males during a short estrus period and cubs from the same litter may have different fathers.

How many cubs do black bears have?

A female black bear can produce a litter of up to five cubs every 2 years. The average number of cubs is 2 or 3. In Minnesota, 2.5 is average. Cubs are born in January or February. They rely on their mother’s body heat for warmth and her rich milk (33% fat) for food until it is time to emerge from the den in the spring. The black bear is the only mammal to lactate (produce milk) for about 3 months without eating.

How long do cubs stay with their mothers?

Cubs stay with their mother for 1 1/2 years. The family bond is very strong. The mother bear is affectionate, strict, protective and devoted to her cubs. Her primary concern is for their safety and education.

How large is a black bear's home range?

The size of the home range varies depending upon the abundance of food. In an area with lots of berry and nut producing plants a territory will be smaller than in an area with scarce food supplies. Yearling females often share the territory of their mothers, but young males may travel far to find their own territories. In Minnesota, a sow’s home range is 2-6 square miles. The breeding territory of an adult male can cover over 100 square miles to overlap with many female home ranges.

What is hyperphagia and when does it occur?

Hyperphagia is a feeding frenzy that occurs in the fall prior to hibernation. Bears eat up to 20 hours per day at this time to increase their weight before entering the den. They can eat up to 20,000 calories a day and can add a layer of fat that is 4 to 5 inches all around its body.

Do black bears hibernate?

Technically, black bears do not hibernate. They enter a state of sedation referred to as torpor. Their metabolism slows down during the long winter sleep so that they do not need to eat, drink, urinate, or defecate until they emerge from their dens in late March or April. Black bears shed their footpads during the winter. You may see bears licking their tender new footpads in the spring.

How much do black bears weigh?

Cubs weigh only 8-12 ounces at birth and are covered with fine, downy hair. Cubs that weigh 5 pounds or more when they leave the den in the spring have the greatest chance of survival. Adult males and females fluctuate in weight over the course of the year. Adult males can weigh 150-600 pounds, while females with cubs can weigh 90-300 pounds. Pregnant females lose about 35% of their weight during the winter, while males and females without cubs lose about 30% of their weight.

Are all black bears black?

In eastern North America, most black bears are black. As you move westward across the continent, the proportion of brown color phase black bears increases. In 1997, a rare white phase black bear we called “Halo” visited the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. Click here to read about Halo.

Can black bears climb trees and swim?

Yes, one of the first things a mother teaches her cubs is to climb trees for safety. Even adult bears will do this when startled. In general, all bears use bodies of water for pleasure and purpose. Minnesota black bears use water to cool off, escape biting insects, hydrate, play and for relaxation purposes.

How fast can black bears run?

Black bears are fast and agile and can run up to 25-30 mph, but their speed is maintained only for short distances. Bears run to catch prey, to inspect an unknown situation or movement, to escape a threat, or to play.

Are black bears dangerous?

Unprovoked attacks on humans by black bears are very rare. Dozens of minor injuries have occurred when people have pet or crowded black bears while they were feeding or photographing. Considering their size and strength, black bears show amazing restraint with humans and each other. In the 2000s, there have been 27 fatal incidences so far in North America. 15 were in Canada, three were in Alaska, two were in Tennessee, and single fatal attacks happened in New York, New Mexico, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah and Montana. Of those attacks, 17 were perpetrated by black bears, and 10 by grizzlies. A person is 150 times more likely to be killed by a tornado and 374 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than to be killed by a black bear.

How can I feed birds if I live in bear country?

Many people who live in bear country want to feed birds, and yet the advice from experts (including the ABA) is that you should not leave feeders out during the bears’ active season, particularly in spring and fall. At the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, there is a birdfeeder demonstration area to show how it is possible to enjoy feeding birds without needlessly impacting bears. Here is the plan for such a feeder suspension system, which you can install in your yard.


  1. Fixed supports, such as 4×4 posts, trees, the side of a building, etc.
  2. Cable on which to hang feeder(s). Feeder should be minimum of 5 feet from supports
  3. Winch with locking mechanism to raise and lower feeder for filling. It must be installed 10 feet above the ground.
  4. Anchor of some kind (U-bolt or hook) also 10 feet above the ground
  5. Wheel assembly, which will roll along cable with feeder attached below
  6. Feeder
  7. If desired, extend cable to another fixed support by using heavier hardware or by using supports at appropriate intervals