General Black Bear Biology

1. What is the life history of a black bear?

Black bear females do not reproduce until they are three to five years old but some are as old as seven. They normally breed every other year. They have an average of two cubs, but can have one to five. At birth cubs weigh 225 to 330 grams and are about 8 inches long. The cubs are blind and deaf, have poorly developed hindquarters, and are covered with a fine down-like hair. The average lifespan of a black bear is 18 years. The oldest documented wild bear was 31 years old.

2. What do black bears eat?

Black bears are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They are also opportunists, meaning they take advantage of whatever is available. Most of their diet consists of vegetation such as berries, roots, and grasses. They also scavenge meat from winter-killed animals, dig for rodents, and eat termites, ants, grubs and other insects

3. Do black bears do anything besides eat?

Yes. Black bears are very intelligent and each has its own personality. Black bears will play in the snow and water and with objects like sticks.

4. What months do black bears spend in a den?

Black bears generally den in October and emerge in mid- April. Black bear dens can be under large boulders, depressions under brush, in the cavity of a tree above ground or at the base, under logs or buildings etc. They tend to den at lower elevations and in less steep areas than grizzly bears. Bears may come out of their dens for a day or two during warm periods and sit in the sun at their den entrances. They will also awaken if disturbed.

Bear den in tree. Photo by Rich Beausoleil WDFW


5. What is the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear?

The black bear is a different, smaller species of bear, and it is more common in forested habitats than the grizzly. Black bears and grizzly bears both range in color from very light blond to cinnamon-like to black; therefore color is not a good way to tell the two species apart. Young grizzlies are no larger than black bears, so size is not a good indicator. Diagnostic features of a black bear are prominent ears, the profile of the face is straight and the muzzle is relatively long. The front claws of a black bear are less than 2 inches long and are curved. A good drawing to help you figure out if you have discovered a black bear track or grizzly track can be found at http://www.bearinfo.org/tracks.htm.

6. How much does a black bear weigh and how big are they?

Adult male black bears weigh approximately 250 lbs while adult females weigh an average of 140 lbs. Yearlings typically weigh 60 to 75 lbs. Adults range from 5 to 6 ft long and are 2 to 3 ft tall at the shoulder.

Human Safety

1. How much danger do black bears pose to humans?

The potential for having an adverse encounter with a black bear is low. Even when they do occur, most bear encounters do not result in human injury. Adverse encounters can usually be avoided by developing an awareness of the conditions that may cause an encounter. Keeping a clean camp, not approaching wildlife too closely, and avoiding situations that might unknowingly surprise a bear greatly decreases the risk of having an unwanted bear encounter, or causing someone else to have one. Proper sanitation practices and familiarity with bear behavior are likely to be the best safeguards against unwanted encounters.

black bear running away (Rich Beausoleil WDFW)

Black bear running away. Photo by Rich Beausoleil WDFW


2. How can people in bear country avoid attracting bears?

There are many specific things people can do to avoid attracting bears, either black or grizzly. Good sanitation is key. Odors can attract bears to potential food items; a bear’s curiosity can even attract them to items that are not food, such as petroleum products and toiletries. Carefully controlling odors associated with food and products which humans use helps prevent bears from being habituated to being near people. This means storing our food, garbage, cooking gear, and toiletries where bears cannot get them. Once conditioned to human sources of food or garbage, a bear can be dangerous. A habituated bear may approach humans closely and come into camps or near homes to search for food.

3. What is a Bear Resistant Food Container?

Note:  GBOP does not formally endorse any of the products mention below or on this website.

Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFCs) are containers for camping, boating, and other recreational activities that are designed to prevent bears from accessing your food and other odorous attractants (toothpaste, utensils etc.). Bears are so successful as species because they are opportunistic omnivores which means they are able to locate many different food types over large areas in different seasons. The problem is that this also leads them to human food that is not stored properly – whether it is in the front country, around human property and campgrounds or in the backcountry when people don’t hang their food and garbage properly out of the reach of inquisitive bears.

Once a bear becomes human food-conditioned it is a tough habit to break. Like a dog begging at the dinner table – one treat and it will be back for more. Human food is not only delicious, but high in calories, which is something that bears learn quickly. Unfortunately, this usually leads to a bear becoming more inclined to come into areas where there are humans, where they often end up being killed. “A fed bear is a dead bear” as the old adage goes.

BRFCs have proven very effective at protecting food from inquisitive, hungry bears in bear country. They are made from a very tough polymer and are virtually indestructible. For more information on BRFC’s check the following sites: www.counterassault.com; www.bearvault.com; www.backpackerscache.com.