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black bear (Ursus americanus americanus)






















PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Adult black bears are approximately 4 to
7 feet from nose to tail, and two to three feet high at the withers. Males are
larger than females. Black bears have small eyes, rounded ears, a long
snout, large non retractable claws, a large body, a short tail, and shaggy
hair. In Virginia most black bears are true black in color unlike black
bears found in more western states that can be shades of red, brown or
blond. Depending on the time of year, adult female black bears commonly
weigh between 90 to 250 pounds. Males commonly weigh between 130
to 500 pounds. The largest known wild black bear was from North
Carolina and weighed 880 pounds. The heaviest known female weighed
520 pounds from northeastern Minnesota.


DISTRIBUTION: The American black bear is found only in North
America. Black bears historically ranged over most of the forested
regions of North America, and significant portions of northern Mexico.
There are approximately 900,000 black bears in North America. Black
bears reside in every province in Canada except for Prince Edward Isle,
and in at least 40 of the 50 states in the US. In the eastern United
States, black bear range is continuous throughout New England but
becomes increasingly fragmented from the mid-Atlantic down through
the Southeast.


Of the three bear species (black, brown, and polar bears) in North
America, only the black bear lives in Virginia. Shy and secretive, the
sighting of a bear is a rare treat for most Virginians. However, bears
are found throughout most of the Commonwealth, and encounters
between bears and people are increasing. A basic understanding of
bear biology and implementing a few preventative measures will go a
long way to helping make all encounters with bears positive.


GENERAL HABITAT: Incredibly adaptable, black bears occupy a great-
er range of habitats than any bear in the world. Bear home ranges must
include food, water, cover, denning sites and diverse habitat types.
Although bears are thought to be a mature forest species, they often
use a variety of habitat types.


LONGEVITY: Bears may live up to 30 years in the wild. The oldest
documented wild bear in Virginia was 26 years of age when it was killed.


SOLITARY OR SOCIAL? Black bears are generally solitary, except sows
caring for cubs. Adult bears may be seen together during the summer
breeding period and occasionally yearling siblings will remain together
for a period of time. Bears may also gather at places with abundant food


DAILTY ACTIVITY TIME: Black bears are typically crepuscular
(active at dusk and dawn), but can be active any time of day.


MOVEMENTS: Female black bears have smaller home ranges (1 to 50
square miles) than males (10 to 290 square miles). A male's home range
may overlap several female home ranges. Bears may move further in
times of less food like early spring. Dispersing yearlings, especially males,
looking for new home ranges may also travel a great distance.


BREDDING AND CUBS: Female black bears mature as early as three
years old. Breeding occurs from mid-June to mid-July, but in the
eastern deciduous forest, mating season can extend into August.
Female black bears usually breed every other year and cubs are born
from early January to mid-February weighing ½ to ¾ lbs. Anywhere
from 1-4 cubs are born at a time and are raised by their mother for
about 1½ years. First-year cub mortality rates are about 20%,
primarily due to predation (foxes, coyotes, dogs, bobcats, other bears)
or abandonment by their mother. Adult bears do not have natural
predators except humans.When the mother is ready to breed again,
she will send her yearlings to fend for themselves during the summer
months when food is usually abundant. Always hungry, these yearling
bears, particularly the males, will seek easy sources of food. The ability
to access human related food sources can spell trouble for these bears.


DENNING: Bears may feed up to 20 hours per day, accumulating fat
(energy) prior to winter denning. An adult male can gain over 100
pounds in a few weeks when acorn production is heavy. Depending on
weather and food conditions, black bears enter their winter dens between
October and January. Bears will not eat, drink, urinate or defecate while
denning. Bears are easily aroused and may be active during warm winter
days. They emerge from their dens from mid-March to early May. In
Virginia, most bears den in large, hollow trees. Other den types include
fallen trees, rock cavities, and brush piles in timber cut areas, open
ground nests, and man-made structures (culvert pipe).


FOODS: Black bears have a very diverse diet. They consume herbaceous
plant parts, woody plant parts, flower/nectar/ pollen, fruit, terrestrial
insects, juvenile and small mammals, juvenile and adult amphibians, and
carrion. Bears are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders, eating mostly
plants in the spring, berries and insects in the summer, and nuts and
berries in the fall. Carrion (dead animals) is often a part of a bear's diet.
Although not typically and an active predator, rare occurrences of
livestock predation is reported each year.



  • Grasses/Forbes

  • Insects/Larvae

  • Skunk Cabbage

  • Squaw Root



  • Berries

  • Hard mast (acorns, Other tree nuts)

  • Autumn olive

  • Dogwood

  • Wild Grapes

  • Serviceberry

  • Mountain-ash

  • Hawthorn

  • Chokecherry

  • Pokeberry

  • Sassafras



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