The American Black Bear

The American black bear is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and are found only in North America.

American Black Bear

Not all black bears are black—their fur can range in color from pure white to a cinnamon color to very dark brown or black. Most populations have a mixture of these colors, including the pure white form which is found in some individuals in the island archipelago in southern British Columbia (Kermodi Island). This white black bear (called spirit bears, revered by Native Americans) is caused by inheriting a recessive gene for coat color from both the mother and the father who could, themselves, both be black. A genetic reason results in the light grey coat color called the “blue” or glacier bear in southeastern Alaska.

Regardless of genetic variants, most of the bears in any region are black in color. Some bears have a white patch on their chests. They have a short, inconspicuous tail, longish ears, a relatively straight profile from nose to forehead, and small, dark eyes. Black bears have relatively short claws which enable them to climb trees. Unlike cats, the claws are non-retractable.

A young black bear.

American black bears are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. In northern regions, they eat spawning salmon. Black bears will also occasionally kill young deer or moose calves. Bears are very will adapted for finding and gathering food. They have a keen sense of smell, powerful forearms, long claws, tremendous endurance, and are adept with their tongue and paws.

In spite of their large size and tremendous strength, most items bears eat are small, and as a result a bear has to eat a lot at one sitting. It is not uncommon for bears to gorge themselves on a particular berry species for several days, or even weeks, eating virtually nothing else before moving on to another location or a different food resource.

During the warmer months of the year, a black bear leaves its day bed, a shallow depression on the ground, in late afternoon or at dusk, and may remain active throughout the night. Feeding or breeding activity may take place during daylight hours as well.

Bear cubs on tree branch.

The black bear spends the winter months in a den where it enters into a deep sleep. Although not a true hibernator, the bear’s body temperature declines 10 degrees F and their metabolic rate declines 50-60%. During this period of dormancy, a black bear does not eat, drink, urinate, or defect, and relies upon fat reserves for energy, losing approximately 15-25 % of its body weight. Den sites include cavities within of under rocks, hollow trees, brush piles, fir and spruce trees, wind-toppled trees.

The black bear has no predators among the wild animals except other black bears.