E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Ursus arctos (Ord, 1815)
Brown Bear; Grizzly Bear
Family: Ursidae

© Ian Gardiner  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #6023)

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Distribution of Ursus arctos in British Columbia.
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Source: Map courtesy of the Province of British Columbia (2008).

Species Information

The Grizzly Bear is one of two species of bears found in British Columbia. In BC, it is primarily found in mountain terrain, in forested areas and open slopes, and in mountain tundra. However, it is not as strongly associated with forested areas as the Black Bear and is more associated with open areas (Hatler et al. 2008). Some Grizzlies migrate to valley bottoms early in the season, moving up again as the season progresses, while other do not move down into the valleys (Hatler et al. 2008). The grizzly is the largest predator found in British Columbia. Grizzly Bears have stocky, compact bodies with thick fur, thick legs, large flat feet, small tails, rounded ears, small eyes, long claws, a concave face, and a noticeable hump over the shoulders (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011). They are usually brown in colour but can vary from blonde to black, with the legs and belly darker in colour. Size varies from region to region, but the larger individuals live in coastal areas where they feed on salmon, and the smallest live in northern interior areas (Hatler et al. 2008). Males may be more than twice the size of females. Males range in length from 1530-2280 mm--females range from 1400-1850 mm; weight varies from 73-329 kg in males and 59-175 kg in females (Hatler et al. 2008).

Grizzly bears are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods. Plants are the primary food in the spring, and berries are the main food source in summer and autumn (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011). Although plants make up the bulk of their diet (91% in southeastern BC), animal protein is important and grizzlies that feed on animal protein, especially salmon, are larger with larger populations (Hatler et al. 2008). Although salmon is significant in the Grizzly Bear diet, they also feed on ungulates, rodents and insects and even black bears (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011). Grizzlies are normally solitary but in coastal areas of BC, the grizzly congregates around salmon spawning areas (Wikipedia 2011). This is a denning species that hibernates in the winter, with most (though not all) dens located at high elevations; some are excavated at the bases of trees and shrubs, some are located in rock caves (Hatler et al. 2008).

Female grizzlies give birth to one to three cubs in the winter den, however females with six cubs have been observed--larger litter sizes are more common in coastal areas where salmon provide a rich food source (Hatler et al. 2008). Cubs are born blind, weighting 400 grams on average, and remain with their mother for two seasons, dispersing on average when they are 2.5 years old (Hatler et al. 2008).

Globally, the Grizzly Bear is found across northern Eurasia and in western North America (Hatler et al. 2008). In North America, the grizzly's range has been reduced, but in Canada it still includes Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, most of British Columbia, western Alberta; in the US, it includes the southern extensions of the Rocky Mountains (Montana, Idaho, Washington); and extends as far south as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011).

In British Columbia, the Grizzly Bear is found throughout much of the province excluding the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island, and is generally extirpated from major urban areas (Hatler et al. 2008). However, it is now expanding its range in some areas, with recent observations from the Squamish area, the upper Pitt River Valley and on islands along the central coast.

Several subspecies of this species are now recognized in North America, and recent genetic work suggest there may be four distinct genetic groups. Further work on the taxonomy of the grizzly bear is needed in order to sort this out. See Hatler et al. 2008 for further information.

Grizzly bears can live up to thirty years in the wild, though twenty to twenty-five is normal (Hatler et al. 2008, Wikipedia 2011).

Similar Species

In British Columbia, the Black Bear is most likely to be confused with the Grizzly Bear, especially lighter colour and brown colour forms of the Black Bear. Large Grizzly Bears are easily identified by size but smaller grizzlies can be confused with Black Bears.. Hatler et al. (2008) provide the following characters that can be used to separate the two species:

1) presence of a hump in Grizzly Bears, lacking in Black Bears
2) ear differences (the ears are more prominent in Black Bears)
3) presence of a ruff (a ruff of longer neck hairs is often present in Grizzlies)
4) front claw length (much longer in Grizzlies).

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS3?BlueSC (May 2002)
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Notes

Although usually solitary, each year during the salmon run, grizzly bears will often congregate along rivers and streams. View a BBC video of grizzly bears catching salmon.

Read a Vancouver Sun article on Grizzly Bears expanding their range.

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

Hatler, David F., David W. Nagorsen and Alison M. Beal. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum Handbook.

Wikipedia. 2011. Grizzly Bear. Available online.

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2017. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 23/04/2018 5:49:03 PM]
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