Text Size: A  A  A

American Black Bear

Ursus americanus

The American black bear can be found in forests and swamps throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Found only in North America, it is the most common and widely distributed of bears. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)
The American black bear can be found in forests and swamps throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Found only in North America, it is the most common and widely distributed of bears. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

Also known as the cinnamon bear, the American black bear is a common bear whose color varies from black to yellow-brown.

Appearance:

The American black bear has a head and body five to six feet in length and stands two to three feet tall at its shoulders. The male weighs between 130 and 350 pounds, but can be as large as 600 pounds, while the female weighs 90 to 175 pounds. The bear's color varies from black to cinnamon or yellow-brown with a small patch of white often present on its breast. Some populations along the Pacific coast have blue fur, and about 10 percent of black bears in British Columbia have a white coat. It has a brown face with small, rounded ears. Its short tail is almost concealed in its long fur. The five toes on its front and back feet feature short claws that are well-suited to climbing.

Habitat:

In eastern North America, forests and swamps; in the west, mountainous areas. In winter, the bears dig out dens beneath fallen trees, in hollow logs or wherever there is shelter. 

Range:

Found only in North America, large range spans most of Canada and the United States, as well as northern and central Mexico. Present throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Feeding:

The American black bear is an opportunistic feeder, but not an active predator. Most vertebrates the black bear consumes are done so in the form of carrion (dead and decaying flesh), and the bulk of its diet is made up of plants. It feeds on berries, nuts, roots, insects and insect larvae, fish, small mammals, eggs, honey, birdseed, carrion and garbage. 

Predators:

Cubs can be killed by large predators like wolves or mountain lions. Most adult black bears that are killed are done so because of encounters with humans; their deaths resulting from gunshots, trapping, motor vehicle accidents or other interactions with people.

Voice:

Adult vocalizations vary from a loud growl when fighting, to a woof-woof to warn cubs of danger, to a whimper to call cubs. Cubs can produce shrill howls when lonely or frightened.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Adult females establish their territories during the summer. Males have a home range of 15 miles or more, often overlapping the smaller ranges of several females. Mating season peaks from June to mid-July. Females give birth once every other year, sometimes waiting three or four years between pregnancies. Pregnancy lasts about 220 days, which includes a delayed implantation. Fertilized eggs are not implanted in the uterus until fall; embryonic development occurs during the last 10 weeks of the pregnancy. Litters of two to three cubs (sometimes as little as one or as many as five or six) are born in January or February. Cubs are born naked and blind and will remain in the den with their hibernating mother to nurse thorughout the winter. Cubs are weaned at six to eight months old, but will remain and den with mother during their second winter. American black bears can live 30 years or more. 

Other Facts:

  • The smallest, commonest and most widely distributed of bears 
  • Most active at dawn and dusk, but sometimes abroad during the day 
  • Can run up to 30 miles per hour for short distances. Capable of climbing and swimming 
  • Sight poor, hearing moderate, sense of smell excellent 

Sources and Additional Information:


410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved