American Black Bear
Ursus americanus

This medium-sized bear is usually black with a brown muzzle, lacks a shoulder hump, and often has a white patch on the chest. Although black is the predominant color, chocolate and cinnamon brown color phases are also common, which often results in people confusing them with brown bears. Black bears have strong, highly curved claws and the profile of the face is convex when compared with the more concave profile of a brown bear.

The adult male ranges from about 50-75 inches in length and weighs about 130 to as much as 650 pounds. Females measure about the same with weight from 90 to 175 pounds. Black bears vary considerably in size, depending on the quality of food available. Males may be from about 20 to 60 percent larger than females. At birth, cubs weigh 7-11 ounces.

Black bears are normally found only in forested areas, but within such habitat they are highly adaptable. They live in both arid and moist forests, from sea level to over 6,560 feet. Historically, black bears are thought to have stayed away from open habitat because of the risk of predation by brown bears.

Black bears are widely distributed throughout the forested areas of North America although they have been totally driven out from some of their original range. They are presently found in northern Mexico, 32 states of the United States, and all the provinces and territories of Canada except Prince Edward Island.

Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years of age and males a year or so later. Mating takes place in June, July, and August, and pairs may remain together for only a few hours or for several days. Pregnancy lasts about 220 days, and the cubs are born in a maternity den in January and February. Litter size ranges from one to five, but two is the average. Cubs may be weaned at six to eight months, but they remain with their mothers for a year and a half. Consequently, the most often that female black bears can mate, unless they lose their cubs prematurely, is every two years. Longevity in the wild is 20 to 25 years.

Black bears are omnivorous and feed on a wide range of foods, depending on what is available. Insects (particularly ants), nuts, berries, acorns, grasses, roots, and other vegetation form the bulk of their diet in most areas. Black bears can also be efficient predators of deer fawns, as well as fresh fish.


Digital photo, September 16, 2002. Location approximately 15 miles north of Monroeville, Alabama. Bear was browsing on a stand of Cardinal Flowers and Water Primrose along roadside embankment.

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