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Last year, when I was backpacking across the United States, I had a chance to visit Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. I had many opportunities to view black bears and other wildlife.

American black bears are known by their species name Ursus americanus.  Black bears are medium-sized bears who live throughout most of North America. They are smaller than the two other bears on the continent, the brown bear and the polar bear.  Black bears are the most widespread species of bear in North America, as well as the World.

There is a lot to learn about American black bears. Please read further to learn more about them, for when you see this beautiful animal.

If you want to know about how bears evolved, then I have written an article you can find here.


The bear in Old English is known as beran and belongs to Germanic origin. Also, from an Indo-European root, shared by Bharati Sanskrit “Bhalu,” in Greek, it is called “αρκούδα,” and in Latin, it is “Ursa.” The male bear is known as boar, whereas a female bear is called a sow. 

Where do Black Bears Live?

The following states have records of black bears.  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Click here to find out which National Parks you can see bears here

What States do not Have Black Bears?  

Black bears do not exist in these states. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. In Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, bears were once found but are no longer residents.


The distribution of American black bears is spread wide across North America.  However, they are now entirely displaced from a few areas of their native range.

The population of American black bears in the 41 states is as follows:

Which State has Black Bears?  

American black bears occur in larger numbers in Alaska than in any other state. However, they also occur in central Mexico, Northern Alaska, and most parts of Canada. 

Black bears are found on the east and west coasts, the Rocky Mountains, and Alaska. Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, and Maine have high numbers of black bears.

KentuckyLess than 500
New Hampshire5,000
New Jersey600
New Mexico8-9,000
New York6-8,000
North Carolina15,000
North DakotaA few
Rhode Island4,500
South Carolina20,000

Want to find out if bears can climb trees? Find out here.

Seasonal distribution 

Spring: During springtime, black bears live in low altitudes towards the south slopes and within forests and estuaries, which have a plentiful supply of green plants

Summer: In summer, black bears occur in mid-elevation non-woody environments. They also live in low altitudes, such as on the river’s edge and on beaches, where they consume berries. In some areas, they can be found around water with plenty of fish.

Fall: In fall, black bears live near the large rivers full of fish and the coastal woodland nearby, where they will eat roots, berries, and other fruits. 

Winter: During winter, most black bears live in woodlands.

I have written this article if you have ever wondered why bears are mammals.


Black bears live in thick vegetation and forested areas. Experts identify about sixteen distinct subspecies of the black bear that occupy many different habitats. 

Many habitats have the same attributes, letting the bears live peacefully. Thick plantations and hard-to-reach regions help these bears stay safe, as they like to live far away from humans.

American black bears usually live in forested regions only, but only if the habitat suits their needs. They can stay in dry and humid areas and live in ranges from sea level to mountainous regions of about 2,000 meters or 6,560 feet. Black bears will refrain from living in open habitats due to the threat of predators.

How Many Black Bears are in the United States?  

The total number of black bears residing in the United States is about 300,000.

Polar bears are apex predators.  Please find out how they hunt in this article I wrote.

How Many Black Bears are in Canada?  

The estimated population of American black bears in Canada is 500,000. The bears live in forested regions and have adjusted to develop well in a colder environment.


Ursus americanus altifrontalisPacific North West (Central British Columbia to Northern California and inside Northern Idaho)
Ursus americanus amblycepsColorado, New Mexico, Arizona, West Texas, Southeastern Utah, and Northern Mexico
Ursus americanus americanusEastern Montana to east coast, Northern Alaska and Southern Texas
Ursus americanus californiensisSouthern Oregon to Southern California
Ursus americanus carlottaeQueen Charlotte Islands and Alaska mainland
Ursus americanus cinnamomumIdaho, Western Montana, Wyoming, Eastern Washington, northeastern Utah, and Oregon
Ursus americanus emmonsiiSoutheastern Alaska
Ursus americanus floridanusNortheastern Mexico
Ursus americanus hamiltoniFlorida, Southern Georgia and Alabama
Ursus americanus kermodeiCentral coast of British Colombia
Ursus americanus luteolusEastern Texas, Los Angeles, and southern Mississippi
Ursus americanus machetesNorth Central Mexico
Ursus americanus pernigerPeninsula Alaska
Ursus americanus pugnaxAlexander Archipelago, Alaska
Ursus americanus vancouveriVancouver Island


American black bears have broad skulls with slim noses and massive jawbones. Female bears tend to have leaner and V-shaped faces compared to males. Their claws are generally black or pale brown, and they have small, round ears that lie at the back over their heads. 

A black bear’s ears look too small for its head and body.  This is one of its most distinguishing features when trying to identify them.

How do you tell the difference between a male and a female bear? Find out here in an article I have written.


Black bears remain solitary most of the time of the year.  However, they will come together to mate during the summer season. Cubs will stay with their mothers for at least a year.

The reproductive attributes of the black bear are as follows:

Black bears mate in May or June but can delay implantation once mating occurs.  This lets the female bear analyze her State before impregnation. The delayed implementation allows the bear not to lose essential fats and energy to support a gestation with little chance of success due to the bear’s physical State.

If the female does not gain enough weight, then the blastocyst, a tiny ball of cells, will not implant, and she will not become pregnant. The gestation period of a black bear is 220 days.

Female bears deliver a cub every two years if food sources are abundant. When food sources are limited, a female bear can skip two years before reproducing again. 

Cubs are born in their mother’s den and stay in the same shelter until the following winter. In the upcoming spring, when other cubs reach two years old, the female bears separate the cubs before reproducing again. 

The American black bear can give birth to 1-5 cubs; however, most young bears have only two cubs.

Behavior of a Black Bear

Black bears like to remain isolated, except while mothers are with cubs or at some stages of mating. Black bears can also be seen together in regions with high food density, consisting of oak trees, berries, wheat, and grain from farm areas.

Black bears may also protect a source of food or their mate. They do not tend to shield a particular place from others but value their personal space. A bear’s home range gives water, food, and enough shelter.

The expansion of a home range can alter with the seasons or years. This depends on food availability, sex, age, the bear’s generative condition, and the population of bears.

At most times, bears will walk further distances in search of food. They are also natural swimmers and can travel to unusual regions, such as small islands in Canada.

Black bears stroke, chew, and leave paw marks on trees.  The marks relate to the male black bear’s superiority and dominance in the territory.

The marks also convey the bear’s reproduction state to ensure both male and female bears know what other bears are in range. Marking the boundaries of the home range amongst female bears may show regional behavior. Marks may also help direct bears in unfamiliar regions, as markings usually increase when a new bear visits the area.

You can find out more about bears swimming here.


Various characteristics create a distinction between the black bear and other species. The black bear is a developed social animal with high intelligence compared to other animals.

Black bears may not be as dangerous as other bears, but they are sensitive and receptive animals.  The female parent is devoted, defensive, affectionate, gentle, and alert regarding their cubs. 

Cubs participate in social activities, show conventional methods to someone they don’t know, and determine their behavior towards them. Bears can differentiate between the frightening and friendly demeanor of humans. 

Black bears convey messages through body posture, noises, and smells. They deal with human beings just as they might with other bears, but as humans are not built the same as bears, this can cause injury or death.

A black bear’s world is defined by scent. They rely on their sharp sense of smell for knowledge about their surroundings. Their sense of smell is sensitive and is about 2,100 times as strong as ours.

Black bears are sturdy and robust animals and have adapted to living around humans.  Black bears have been known to open car doors and windows looking for food.

Do bears have tails? Find out here in another article I have written

Bear Sounds

Black bears are quiet animals; however, they often make sounds to convey a message:

  • Cubs roar and groan while suffering in pain, and perform a whispering gasp while suckling.
  • The female bears communicate with cubs using groans and moans to send a signal to the cubs to climb a tree for security or follow her. 
  • A black bear, if feeling insecure, will slap the floor, huff and puff air forcibly from its nose, and clasp their teeth together. The bear may walk closer to them if these actions don’t frighten their prey.
  • A black bear does not make a sound when it is aggressive. They will look directly at the threat, extrude the lower lip and make their ears flat on their head.
  • Using their noses to smell, they suddenly rise on their back legs for a clear view and to help them smell their environment better.  This is an ordinary behavior and isn’t always a signal of aggression.

Bears can often be seen playing with each other, but do you know why?  Find out in this article I wrote.

Can Black Bears Climb Trees?  

Black bears have less mass in their bodies in comparison to brown bears. They also have shorter paws, so black bears are good at climbing trees. They can climb 100 feet up a tree in just 30 seconds. If you come face to face with a black bear, do not climb a tree.

Want to find out more about bears climbing trees? Find out here. 

How Fast Can a Black Bear Run?

Black bears can run downhill, uphill, or on flat surfaces at the same speed. Black bears can run fast, running up to a speed of about 60 km per hour. Black bears can outrun a racehorse on small distances but have less endurance. However, black bears can run 50 feet per second.

Are Black Bears Nocturnal?  

American black bears stay active at all times of the day and night but search for food at night. Bears residing close to humans are much more nocturnal.  American black bears living closer to their larger cousins, brown bears, are primarily diurnal.

Where do Black Bears Sleep? 

Black bears make their dens in caves, giant upright hollow trees, stony protrudes under a pile of leaves and branches, or the decomposing trunks of wood. Their preferred place to stay during the day is large trees with big open limbs.

How Long Does a Black Bear Live?  

A black bear’s lifespan is about 18 to 20 years in the wild, but a captive bear can live for almost 40 years. The diet of captive bears is usually made up of natural and organic food, while bears who eat non-natural human food tend to die earlier in captivity.

For more information on how long bears live, I have written this article.

What Color Is A Black Bears Fur?

American black bears have soft fur, thick underfur, and large, bristly, hairy, and dense guard fur. Despite their name, they display various colors as they appear in white, blue-tinted, blonde, cream, cinnamon, light brown, chocolate, or pitch black. American bears are generally black with a brown snout and white marks on the upper body.

Some black bears have a white and deep blue lining, named the glacier bear and kermode. Kermode bears live across the north-central coast of Vancouver Island and north-western Canada. 

American black bears have multiple layers of dense shaggy fur that help them stay warm in the cold months of winter. Their skin is more profound, rougher, bristly, and coarse than a dog’s coat.

Bears can often be seen playing with each other, but do you know why?  Find out in this article I wrote.

How Many Toes Does A Black Bear Have?

American black bears’ paws are round, flat, and huge, and they look like humans, besides the biggest toe on their feet. They have five toes on both the back and front legs. The pad on the bottom of the paw contains fur, which helps them in cold temperatures.

The front feet are more rectangular compared to their back feet. The heel pads are so strong that their track marks become visible when they put their feet on muddy surfaces. The measurement of the front foot is 4 to 8 inches long and 3.25 to 6 inches broad. The back feet measure 5-9 inches long and 3.5 to 6 inches wide. 

Black bears usually stroll but may additionally run, stride or sprint. They roam around in a fast stroll.  The stroll is generally between 19-28 inches long and 8-14 inches wide. While in a sprint, the pace size is typically 25-30 inches. The height of all 4 feet is generally 38-50 inches long.

All four feet have five bent claws that the black bears cannot conceal. Their claws are sturdy enough to dig, tear out the roots of plants and trees, and dig up stumps and chunks of wood.

Black bears usually walk on four legs but can stay upright on their two back legs to search for food, climb, or inspect their surroundings.

Black bears aren’t just black; polar bears don’t have white fur.  

How Big Are Black Bears?  

The adult black bear males have a length and weight of 50-75 in (130-190 cm) and 60-300 kg (130 -660 lbs). Female black bears are smaller, ranging from 50-75 in (130-190 cm) and weighing around 40-80 kg (90 to 175 lbs).

How Tall is a Black Bear?  

Adult black bears have a height of approximately 1.2-1.5 meters (3-4 feet) when they stand on all fours, but they may look up to 2.13 meters (7 feet tall) when they stand upright.

How Big was the Largest Black Bear?

The largest American black bear was a male in New Brunswick, shot dead in November 1972. This massive bear weighed around 409 kilograms (901 lbs) and measured 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) long.

How Big is a Black Bear Cub?  

A black bear cub weighs around 1/300th to 1/500th of its mother’s weight when born. However, newborn cubs weigh a little above 300 gms (10.5 ounces) and are about 9 inches (23cm) long.

How Strong is a Black Bear?  

Black bears are unbelievably strong.  When researchers used to trap bears in snares and traps, the bears could easily tear apart the catches. They could also work themselves out of the traps on their own.

They have strong jaws sufficient to crush a deer’s bones. They can easily turn over a 45 kg stone when searching for food. Their bodies have great endurance and can walk up to 24 km (15 miles) daily.

What do Black Bears Eat? 

American black bears eat a mixed diet but commonly eat plants and fruits. Regardless of their appearance, long molars, and claws, around eighty-five percent of a black bear’s diet is from vegetation. They also love to consume honey and may tear apart an entire tree to reach a beehive. 

Black bears have thick coats that defend them from getting hurt by bees.  This means they can consume the honeycomb without fear of bee stings. Some bears travel into areas with humans to get food from trash cans or dumpsters.

When they make themselves ready for hibernation during the autumn season, they devour masses of small insects like ants or bees for protein. They can also prey upon small deer, cows, and elks, although this is usually the carrion from predators such as wolves and mountain lions. 

The protein they get from hunting and consuming meat helps them store fat for their lengthy hibernation. Black bears sleep during the winter and gain tremendous mass, especially in autumn.

Throughout the winter, bears in hibernation don’t consume any food.  Once they wake, they are usually starving and can become vulnerable once spring arrives.

If you want to know more about bear hibernation, I have written an article which you can find here.

After waking up, a black bear’s preferred food is the shoots of trees and nuts taken from squirrels’ caches.  These are plentiful and incorporate lots of essential vitamins. These food items help them replace their energy, and one month later, they continue their regular diet.

Black bears can lose about 30% of their body mass during sleep. Female bears breastfeed newly born cubs and drop an extra 40% of their body mass throughout the slumber.

You can find out more about black bears’ diet in this article I wrote

How Much Water do Black Bears Drink?  

Black bears drink about 4 gallons of water every day.

The Need To Protect Black Bears 

The sustentation of black bears in nature is essential for human beings.  Black bears are necessary for ecosystems due to their impact on the population of insects and fruits. 

Black bears will defecate the seeds of plants they consume, which fertilizes the forest floor. The new plants can provide natural security against floods, erosion, and thunderstorms.

Black bears are listed as least concern by the IUCN.  Populations of black bears in Florida and Louisiana are now growing, while in Western Texas, they have been recolonizing bears after almost total destruction, which has increased their numbers.

Regions with a large human population may cause conflict with the bear.  As the bears get drawn toward humans’ food, bears will inevitably get closer to humans.

Other reasons to save the American black bears are:

  • They are a tremendous indicating species.
  • They have significant and productive value as tourists, enthusiasts, and photographers spend tremendous money to view bears. 
  • They have become a part of legendary myths and anecdotes.
  • They have become essential for human beings in many ways, such as in First Nations services, legends, and the manufacture and sale of teddy bears.

How Good Is The Sense Of Smell In A Black Bear?

American black bears can smell up to a distance of 20 miles and possess one of the best noses in the animal kingdom.  They can smell about seven times better than most other animals and 21,000 times compared than human beings.

The black bear has a keen sense of smell developed to assist them in locating food.  Their sense of smell also helps them find a mate, track the cubs, and keep away from threats, especially male bears. A bear’s nose is so astute that they become aware of animals’ carcasses even against the wind. 

Black bears have an extraordinary sense of smell due to the part of their brain that controls the sense of smell, called the olfactory bulb. The brain of a black bear, although only 1/3rd the size of the human brain, has an olfactory bulb five times the size of humans.

They also have enormously advanced nose muscles that comprise various tiny tissues. A bear’s nose’s internal area is 9 inches, 100 times larger than the human’s receptor.

Do bears have tails? Find out here in another article I have written