Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Black Bear

Ursus americanus


The most common and smallest bear species of North America, the black bear can weigh 150-700 lbs. A female bear (generally smaller than the male) is called a sow, weighing around 175 lbs. A male black bear is called boar, weighing about 300 lbs.


Black bears can be found throughout North America in swamps, wetlands, dry upland hardwood and coniferous forests habitats. They prefer wooded habitats with a dense understory. Territories are very large (100-120 square miles for males and 24-50 square miles for females) due to their ability to travel long distances.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Black bears are omnivores, eating a variety of foods consisting of both vegetation and meat. They will eat grasses, forbs, berries, carrion, insects, and masts from oak, hickory and beech trees. They will occasionally eat fish and animals killed by other predators.


Black bears are promiscuous mammals, which mean they mate with more than one individual. Their breeding season is mid-June through mid-July. After mating, black bears delay the implantation of a fertilized egg until early December. After implantation, it takes six weeks for a sow to be ready to give birth. Sows will give birth only once a year, they generally have only one cub but they can also have litters of two or three. Cubs are born while the mother is asleep in her den during a long hibernation period. Sows stay with their cubs in the den for 3 months after birth; she will continue to care for them for a year and a half.

Months and Times of Activity

Black bears are crepuscular, which means they are active in the early morning and late evening. Black bears stay in dens during the winter months (December-April), while in a hibernation-like sleep.  This is a way to conserve energy during times when food is scarce in the winter, lowering metabolic and heart rates while in a sleep-like condition. Black bears emerge from their dens in April to forage for food

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

  • The fur of a black bear is not always black. The fur of this bear can be a variety of colors such as black, chocolate, brown, cinnamon brown, blue-black, and even white.
  • Black bears can run 35 miles per hour.
  • Black bears are not true hibernators because they can be woken when disturbed and they sometimes leave their dens for short periods of time.
  • Black bears are very good at climbing trees.
  • Children’s Book: Big Black Bear by Wong Yee


"A to Z Species Guide - Black Bear." ODNR Division of Wildlife - A to Z Species Guide. ODNR Division of Wildlife, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

"Maine Black Bear." Maine Secretary of State Kids:., 2007. Web. 30 Jan. 2013