Posted on: November 23rd, 2012


Bears at USeeWildlife

We’ve seen as many as 25 different American Black Bears at the current cam location. There were at least 4 cubs last year. Bears have been spotted on the following cams – Hidden Pond, Upper Springs, Dogwood Mountain, Lost Field, and Fossil Ridge.

American Black Bear Description

The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is the most common bear species native to North America. It lives throughout much of the continent, from northern Alaska south into Mexico and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This includes 41 of the 50 U.S. states, all Canadian provinces except Prince Edward Island, and some of Mexico. Populations in the Southern United States remain in the protected mountains and woodlands of parks and preserves, though bears will occasionally wander outside the parks’ boundaries and have set up new territories.

The American Black Bear usually ranges in length from 150 to 180 cm (5 to 6 feet) and typically stands about 76 to 91 cm (2.5 to 3 feet) at the shoulder. Standing up on its hind feet, a Black Bear can be up to 7 feet tall (2.12 m). Males are 33% larger than females. Females weigh between 40 and 180 kg (90 and 400 pounds); males weigh between 115 and 275 kg (250 and 600 pounds). Adult black bears can reach 300 kg (660 pounds), but exceptionally large males have been recorded from the wild at up to 240 cm (95 inches) long and at least 365 kg (800 pounds). The biggest American Black Bear ever recorded was a male from North Carolina that weighed 881 lbs (400 kilograms). At the other extreme, very small adult bears can weigh as little as 39 kg (85 lbs) in females and 47 kg (103 lbs) in males. Cubs usually weigh 200 to 450 g (between 7 ounces and 1 pound) at birth. The adult has small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, and a short tail. It has an excellent sense of smell. Though they generally have shaggy black hair, the coat can vary in color from white through chocolate-brown, cinnamon-brown, and blonde (found mostly west of the Mississippi River), to black in the east (the same is generally true in Canada, the border being between Manitoba and Ontario). They occasionally have a slight V-shaped white chest blaze. The tail is 4.8 inches (12.12 cm) long.

Although Black Bears can stand and walk on their hind legs it is more normal for them to walk on all fours. When they do stand, it is usually to get a better scent or to look at something. Their characteristic shuffling gait results from their plantigrade (flat-footed) walk, with the hind legs slightly longer than the forelegs. Another reason for the apparent shuffle is that they commonly walk with a pacing gait. Unlike many quadrupeds, the legs on one side move together instead of alternating, much like a pacer horse. Each paw has five long, strong claws used for tearing, digging, and climbing. Though relatively less powerful than a grizzly bear, black bears are still enormously powerful. In one account, a 55-kg bear cub lifted off a 140-146-kg rock “back-handed”. When necessary, they can run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) and are good swimmers. The ears of a black bear are larger and more erect than those of the brown bear, and it lacks a prominent shoulder hump.

Ecology and Behavior

Black bears are found in a wide variety of habitats across their range. They prefer forested and shrubby areas but they are also known to live on ridgetops, in tidelands, burned areas, riparian areas, agricultural fields, and, sometimes, avalanche chutes. Black bears can be found from hardwood and conifer swamps to the rather dry sage and pinyon-juniper habitats in the western states. Black bears typically “hibernate” during winter in hollowed-out dens in tree cavities, under logs or rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions. While they do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate during hibernation, it is not the true hibernation of smaller mammals since their body temperature does not drop significantly and they remain somewhat alert and active. Females give birth and nurse their young while hibernating. In southern states, some males may not hibernate at all due to readily available food sources throughout the winter. Females with cubs will hibernate even in the southern states.

After emerging from their winter dens in spring, they seek carrion from winter-killed animals and new shoots of many plant species, especially wetland plants. In mountainous areas, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses. Black bears use dense cover for hiding and thermal protection, as well as for bedding. They climb trees to escape danger and use forested areas and rivers as travel corridors.


Females generally reach breeding maturity at 3 to 4 years of age and with adequate nutrition can breed every 2 years. In poor quality habitat, they may not mature until 5-7 and may skip breeding cycles. Males are sexually mature at the same age, but may not become large enough to win breeding rights until they are 4-5 years old (they have to be large enough to win fights with other males and be accepted by females). Mating is generally during summer, from mid-June to mid-August with some variation depending on latitude, but with embryonic diapause, the embryos do not begin to develop until the mother dens in the fall to hibernate through the winter months. Because of this delay, gestation can be 7 to 8 months, but actual development takes about 60 days. However, if food was scarce and the mother has not gained enough fat to sustain herself during hibernation as well as produce and feed cubs, the embryos do not develop.

The cubs are generally born in January or February. They are very small, about 10-14 ounces, and are blind, nearly hairless, and helpless when born. Two to three cubs are most common, though up to four and even five cubs have been documented. First-time mothers typically have only a single cub. The mother nurses the cubs with rich milk, and by spring thaw, when the bears start leaving their dens, the cubs are fur-balls of energy, inquisitive and playful. By this time, they are about 4 to 8 pounds (2-4 kg). When their mother senses danger, she grunts to the cubs to climb high up a tree. They are weaned between July and September of their first year and stay with the mother through the first winter. The cubs become independent during their second summer (when they are 1.5 years old). At this time, the sow goes into estrus again.

Cub survival is totally dependent on the skill of the mother in teaching her cubs what and where to eat, how to forage, where to den, and when and where to seek shelter from heat or danger.


Black bears are omnivores whose diet includes plants, meat, and insects. Their diet typically consists of about 10-15% animal matter. They are apex predators in North America, with the exception of areas where they coexist with the brown bear. The black bear eats a wide variety of foods, mainly herbs, nuts and berries. In the state of Washington and other parts of the Pacific Northwest, black bears eat a large amount of skunk cabbage, horsetail and tree bark during the spring. They also commonly feed on spring acorns in Massachusetts.

They feed on carrion and insects (mainly for the larvae) such as carpenter ants, yellow jackets, bees, wasps and termites. They raid beehives for both honey and bee larvae as both are easy sources of carbohydrates (honey) and protein (larvae.) They also kill and eat small mammals (such as rodents) and ungulates, mostly the young. In many parts of the U.S., black bears are known to prey on white-tailed deer fawns. In addition they have been recorded preying on elk calves in Idaho and moose calves in Alaska.

Additionally, black bears will eat salmon, suckers, American alligator eggs, crayfish, and trout and will seek out food within orchards, beehives, and agricultural croplands.

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