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

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

Photo of species

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

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Ursus arctos in British Columbia
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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 a noticeable hump over the shoulders (Hatler et al. 2008). 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.

Grizzlies are normally solitary but in coastal areas of BC, they congregate 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).

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 includes the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, most of British Columbia, western Alberta; in the US, it includes Alaska, 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.

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) 2021. 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: 2024-05-28 8:20:03 PM]
Disclaimer: The information contained in an E-Fauna BC atlas pages is derived from expert sources as cited (with permission) in each section. This information is scientifically based.  E-Fauna BC also acts as a portal to other sites via deep links.  As always, users should refer to the original sources for complete information.  E-Fauna BC is not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the original information.

© E-Fauna BC 2021: An initiative of the Spatial Data Lab, Department of Geography, UBC