Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Description
Black Bear

Size

  • The black bear is the smallest of the North American bears.
  • Adult male (or boar) body weight average is 100 to 200 kilograms (220 to 440 pounds). Adult female (or sow) body weight average is 45 to 140 kilograms (100 to 310 pounds).
  • Adult forefoot print width is about 9.5 centimetres (3.75 inches). Adult rear foot print length is about 18 centimetres (7 inches).

Appearance

  • In profile, snout and face form straight line—no "dished" face.
  • Ears pointed and somewhat prominent.
  • No shoulder hump.
  • Claws of front feet are short and usually black. They make little or no imprint in track.
  • When standing on the level, a black bear's body profile slopes forward from the high point at the hips.
  • Colour varies from black to blond.
Distribution
  • Historically, the black bear was widely distributed in suitable habitats throughout most of North America. It evolved as a forest-dwelling species and under natural conditions is shy and secretive, rarely venturing far from the security of forest cover.
  • Current range encompasses some 488,000 square kilometres (188,417 square miles) or about 74 percent of the province.
Natural History

Habitat

  • The black bear inhabits most of Alberta's forested land.
  • Black bears are common in open forests throughout the mixed-wood, foothill, and montane life zones.
  • Partial clearing of forests for roads, trails and other developments has improved black bear habitat and consequently their numbers have increased in recent years.

Food

The diet of black bears varies with the seasons.

  • Spring diet may include:<
    • carcasses of winter killed animals
    • overwintered bear berries
    • poplar buds
    • horsetails
    • sedges
    • dandelions
    • peavines and clovers
    • moose and caribou calves
  • Summer diet may include:
    • sarsaparilla
    • peavine
    • ants and other insects
    • fish
  • Autumn diet may include berries, particularly red buffaloberries in mountain regions, and blueberries and other berries in the boreal forest.
  • In years of berry failures, black bears may seek out human refuse.

When Active

  • Black bears are active from spring through to autumn.
  • In northern climates such as Alberta, black bears escape severe winter weather and food shortages by hibernating. During this period of dormancy, body temperature is lowered by 7 to 8°C, metabolism is reduced 50 to 60 percent, and heart rate drops from 40 to 50 beats per minute to 8 to 19.
  • Black bears in Alberta spend 5 to 6 months in winter dens and lose 10 to 30 percent or more of their body weight. They do not eat, drink, defecate or urinate during the entire denning period and the intestinal tract becomes blocked with a fecal plug until the bear emerges in spring.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Black bears usually reach breeding maturity by the age of three-and-a-half years.
  • Mating takes place in June and July. However, development of the embryo is delayed until the fall.
  • One to four cubs are born in February while the sow is in the winter den.

Growth Process

  • Tiny at birth, weighing about 250 to 350 grams (9 to 12 ounces), black bear cubs grow rapidly, and weigh about two kilograms (five pounds) by the time they emerge from the den in April.
  • Boars (males) do not share in the raising of young. Cubs remain with the sow, sharing her den during the second winter.
  • The following spring, the cubs leave to forage on their own. Except during the breeding season, and sows with cubs, black bears are basically solitary.
Conservation and Management

Status

The black bear is classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current Management

Hunting

See details in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations. To view the guide online or to order a printed copy, visit the My Wild Alberta website at:

Similar Species
  • Grizzly Bear
    A brown individual black bear may often be mistaken for a grizzly, but is smaller in size. In contrast with the grizzly, the facial profile is a straight line and black bears lack a pronounced shoulder hump. The claws of the feet are shorter than the grizzly's and make less of an imprint in tracks.

 

Page Information

Updated: Jan 14, 2015