Bears are omnivorous - meaning they eat vegetable and animal matter. Their natural diet, although mainly vegetarian, includes berries, grasses, nuts and seeds, roots, insects, fish, carrion and, occasionally, mammals such as deer and moose.
Bears generally avoid people. However, with the ever-increasing sprawl of human development, conflicts are inevitable. When natural food is scarce, bears may travel hundreds of kilometers, sometimes coming in contact with human settlements and human foods. As opportunistic feeders, hungry bears may enter a backyard or campground if lured by smells from a barbecue or trash bin.
With intelligence comparable to that of the great apes, bears are highly evolved social animals. They're all individuals. Bears often share friendship, resources and security. They form hierarchies and have structured kinship relationships.
Bears are not mean or malicious; they are very gentle and tolerant animals. Mother bears are affectionate, protective, devoted, strict, sensitive and attentive with their young. Not unlike people, bears can be empathetic, fearful, joyful, playful, social and even altruistic.
Bears are not as unpredictable and dangerous as Hollywood or the media would have us believe. Bears exhibit very predictable behaviour. This trait can be beneficial to people who come into contact with bears.
Cubs, as well as older bears, engage in social play and have ritualistic mechanisms to meet strangers and decide if they're to be friends or not. Bears routinely distinguish between threatening and non-threatening human behaviour. The same bear that casually empties your birdfeeder while you watch from the window also successfully evades human predators during hunting season. This requires an extremely high level of intelligence.
Bears communicate using body language, sounds and smells. Bears will treat humans just as they would other bears. The problem is, bears are very physical with each other, with the intentional use of bites, swats or body posturing. Bears live in a rich and complex scent-defined world. They depend on their acute sense of smell for information about the world around them. Their smelling ability is extremely sensitive, with one hundred times more nasal mucosa area than a human. A complex system of social messages are communicated through trails of airborne scent; scent transferred to twigs, branches and grasses; and scents left on purpose by tree rubbing or biting, as well as scat or urine marks. In the ursine world, these messages form the daily newspaper.
A bear's hearing ability is excellent, and like dogs, bears hear high pitches, exceeding human frequency range and sensitivity.
Bears see in color and have good vision, similar to humans.
Bears are fast; they can run downhill and uphill at speeds exceeding 50 km/h - faster than Olympic sprinters!
Bears are very strong and powerful animals; they have been known to bend open car doors and pry open windshields in their search for food. Bears routinely roll over huge rocks and logs in search of food. A grizzlies' powerful digging ability lets them feed on roots, bulbs, and rodents; and dig dens on steep mountain slopes.
Size, body weight and color vary between species and from habitat to habitat. Learn to identify the difference between blacks and grizzlies.
BEARS ARE PREDICTABLE. Bears are usually more predictable than people. Learn more about bears and how to interpret bear behaviour, so that you can react appropriately and avoid a negative encounter.
Bears are NOT ferocious. Bears are NOT mean or malicious. Bears are normally shy, retiring animals that have very little desire to interact with humans.
Black Bears are usually tolerant of people and often live near human settlements.
Black Bears' excellent tree climbing ability is often used to escape predators and other bears; threatened mothers send cubs climbing.
Standing up on its hind legs allows a bear to get more information from its senses of smell, sight, and hearing. It is a sign of curiosity, not aggression.
Bears are active mainly from dawn to dusk, but may be seen any time of day or night.
Most negative human-bear encounters are a result of bears reacting defensively vs. acting aggressively and can therefore be avoided.
Bears are very curious and will inspect odours, noises & objects to determine if they are edible or playthings.
Vocalizations from treed or trapped bears are usually FEAR MOANS and are often mistaken for growls.
Food & fear dominate a bear's life. Most of a bear's day is spent foraging for food.
Do not feed bears! Conditioning bears to human food sources will eventually lead to trouble and often the death of the bear.
Although bears are technically of the order Carnivora, they are essentially omnivores.
Fish and meat are important sources of protein and fat. Although meat tops the list of high-quality food, most bears rely on chance carrion (including winter-killed animals). Some become very effective predators on newborn elk, moose, deer or caribou. Others live in areas where salmon, suckers or other fish spawn for part of each year.
Bears spend most of their time feeding on vegetation, insects and other more reliable, although lower calorie food sources. Plant foods make up the majority of a bear's diet (sometimes, as much as 90%).
Bears use a patchwork of habitats through the year, concentrating on different food sources as they come into season.
Contact your local wildlife office to find out what foods bears prefer in your area.
North American black bears are creatures of the forest, preferring extensive wooded areas with a variety of fruit- and nut-producing species and small openings that promote fruiting of many shrub species. Lowlands and wetlands are important sources of succulent vegetation. Streams and pools are needed for drinking and cooling. Trees larger than 20 inches d.b.h. with strong, furrowed bark are easily climbed refuges for spring black bear cubs. Old growth trees are preferred denning sites.
Bears don't have exclusive territories that they defend from other bears. A bear may occupy a home range that overlaps the territories of other bears and simply choose to avoid the other bears most of the time. A bear's home range can change in size from one year to the next, or from one area to another, depending on the distribution of food and other resources. Male bears tend to range over larger territories, probably because of the wider area over which he can distribute his genes. Females with cubs will have smaller home ranges, especially with cubs-of-the-year, as they are not as mobile.
Breeding season is mid-May to early-July, with mating mainly occurring during June.
Delayed implantation keeps fertilized eggs from beginning development into embryos until around the start of denning season. If female bears do not attain sufficient body fat or weight, their embryos will not develop.
Cubs are born in January or February. Litter size is usually two, but ranges from one to four or more cubs. Cubs weigh 1/10 as much as human babies.
Mother bears are affectionate, protective, devoted, strict, sensitive, and attentive with their cubs.
Subadult females tend to stay within part of their mother's home range, while subadult males are usually discouraged from staying.
Black bear cubs usually stay with their mothers for up to 1.5 years.
In theory, a male and female black bear born this year - if they breed as soon as they reach sexual maturity and as often as possible, and if their offspring did the same - could in the space of ten years have grown to a population of 15 bears, assuming none died.