The Black Bear is a diurnal, solitary species that is found across most of North America and throughout British Columbia. It is one of the most readily seen and easily identified large wildlife species in the province. It has noticeable rounded ears, small eyes, a large snout, thick legs, large flat-soled feet and a very small tail (Hatler et al. 2008). Not all Black Bears are black--they may be blonde, cinnamon, brown or black, and some may have a v-shaped white patch on the chest. The Kermode Bear or Spirit Bear, which is a Black Bear, can be white.
At a distance, smaller Black Bears can look like a large dog. Males generally range in length from 130 to 188 cm and females range from 116-160 cm; males weigh 36-148 kg while females weigh 31-118 kg (Hatler et al. 2009, Wikipedia 2011).
Small Black Bears may be confused with Grizzly Bears; sometimes it is difficult to separate larger lighter-coloured Black Bears from Grizzly Bears. The most reliable feature for separation is the large hump over the shoulders on grizzlies and their much longer front claws. View a photo of grizzly bear claws.
Black Bears hibernate in winter in hollowed out dens in tree cavities, under logs or rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions (Wikipedia 2011).
However they are easily woken up and can become instantly active and dangerous (Hatler et al. 2008).
Two to three (up to five) cubs are born in the winter den in January or February, blind, nearly hairless and weighing 200-300 grams (Hatler et al. 2008). They remain with their mother through the next winter (they usually den with her) and spring before dispersing (Hatler et al. 2008).
The Black Bear is omniverous and eats plants, meat, and insects, although the majority of their diet is plant-based (Hatler et al. 2008). Berries comprise a significant component of their diet in late summer and early fall, prior to denning, and berry seeds are readily visible in scats at that time of year. However, Black Bears are opportunistic feeders and will feed on carrion, young mammals, bird eggs, fish, insects and rodents (Hatler et al. 2008). Reimchen (2000) reported on Black Bears consumption of chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) in Haida Gwaii.
The Black Bear is a forest species throughout its range, but forages in a variety of habitats, including forest (conifer swamps, hardwoods) and shrub areas, shrub-steppe, ridgetops, shorelines, and riparian areas (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011).
Five subspecies of the Black Bear are recognized in BC (Hatler et al. 2008), including the Kermode or Spirit Bear of the central and north coast and adjacent islands (Hatler et al. 2008). One in ten Kermode Bears are white or cream-coloured. The five subspecies are:
1) Ursus americanus altifrontalis (coast form)
2) Ursus americanus carlottae (Queen Charlotte Islands)
3) Ursus americanus cinnamomum (most of BC east of the coast mountains)
4) Ursus americanus kermodei(mainland coast of BC and adjacent islands, from Burke Channel to the Nass River)
5) Ursus americanus vancouveri (Vancouver Island and larger adjacent islands).
However, recent genetic work does not appear to support these distinctions but rather supports two genetic groups: a coastal group and a continental group. Further work on the taxonomy of the Black Bear is needed. For further information on this, please refer to Hatler et al. (2008).
The highest recorded density of Black Bears in western North America is from a coastal island off of Washington State where 12 to 15 bears per km square has been reported. Bears play a significant ecological role as dispersal agents through their consumption of plant seeds. Seeds consumed by bears reportedly have higher germination rates (Hatler et al. 2008). Bears also contribute to nutrient levels in associated ecosystems, both through nutrients in their feces and through salmon carcasses they leave behind that decompose and further add nutrients to the soil (Hatler et al. 2008).
View a video of the black bear by Rod Innes.