The name "black bear" can sometimes be misleading.
About 30 percent of black bears are actually brown in colour.
blue coloured (glacier bears) and white coloured (Kermode bears)
black bears occur in coastal Alaska and British Columbia.
Although it has the powerfully muscled build of the bear family,
the black bear is relatively small. Adult males average 135
in weight with a
shoulder height of one meter. Females average 70 kilograms in weight.
Compared to that of a human, the eyesight of a bear is similar,
but its senses of smell and hearing are more highly developed.
These senses enable the black
bear to detect the presence of grizzlies and humans (the only animals that
are a threat) as well as carcasses and carrion that might mean a good meal.
The black bear began to move northwards into Northern British
Columbia about 12,000 years ago. It was a time when the great
ice sheets of
the Wisconsin era were
into the mountains, and the boreal forests were slowly covering the fresh
The evolution of denning behaviour was a key element in the expansion
of black bear range into northern Canada. For this animal, a shorter
means a longer denning period. At seven months, the denning period
of a Northern B.C. black bear is one of the longest of the species.
only a few weeks in the den.
Mountainous terrain tends to reduce the size of each animal's
home range. Black bears need access to different types of habitat
for food, water,
and concealment. Eastern black bears move great distances to meet all
of these needs. Black bears have only to move to higher or lower elevations
to find different
types of habitat.
The presence of grizzlies affects the distribution
and behaviour patterns of our black bears. Grizzlies may kill and
and easily win the competition for food where their ranges overlap
level and the
subalpine zone. A black bear feeding on a salmon stream or in a berry
patch will quickly move away when a grizzly arrives.
An important feature of northern black bears is their low rate
of reproduction. A female black bear breeds for the
time at seven
to nine years of age, and every three to four years afterwards.
In its 20
sow will produce only two to four litters.
A YEAR IN THE LIFE
Black bears avoid severe winter by denning up before
the worst weather arrives. Denning habits vary between different
individuals in the same population group. Dens can be dug into
the ground, or situated under the roots of fallen trees or in
dens are usually lined with leaves, grass, and twigs.
Pregnant females give birth in the winter den during the month
of February. One or two, and occasionally three squirrel-size
the time they
leave the den in April or May, the cubs will weigh about 20
pounds. It's a remarkable growth rate when you consider that the
have been nursed
for three months
by a mother that hasn't consumed any foods or liquids.
When longer days, warmer temperatures, and melting snow signal
the arrival of another spring, black bears emerge from their
first to step
out, usually near the end of April.
Many black bears move to grassy south-facing hillsides as
soon as they emerge. These slopes are free of snow at this
of year and
bears find overwintered
cranberries and bearberries on which to feed. At river
level, fresh growths of horsetails and willow catkins are important
of one type
or another makes up 95% of the black bear diet. However,
unlike grizzlies, black bears seldom eat plant roots.
are too fast for bears to catch, but moose calves are an exception.
from two to ten percent of the newborn calves. These
kills were made in the subalpine
zone where many cow moose give birth, but are also
likely to occur in valley floor settings. Caribou calves are
Black bears mate between mid June and the end
of July. During mating season male bears travel widely,
searching for females and
following their scent trails.
Breeding pairs stay together for a few hours, or
Females with cubs remain in their dens about a month
longer than other bears. The cubs usually stay with
each winter. Females breed again only after their cubs
have left or died, and may
skip a year in between.
Black bears make use of several types of habitat through
the summer. Horsetails growing in openings in white
to bears in
early summer. When soapberries ripen in July, the
bears move into aspen and cottonwood
stands. Soapberries grow along the margins of these
stands and the fresh leaves of the aspen itself are
Summer is a hungry time for black bears. As the grasses
and horsetails mature, their nutritional value declines.
these lean times,
bears might climb
trees to obtain cottonwood catkins, or fish for pike
along the shallow margins of a lake. Some bears seek
garbage to supplement
As summer progresses, the bears move into black spruce
forests where ripening blueberries are found. If
they're not threatened
bears will move into sub alpine habitats where
more blueberries and crowberries are
In most years, energy-rich berries are plentiful
during the autumn season. Bears gain weight rapidly
year -- as
much as one to two
Berry crops are critical to northern bears which
must survive with a narrow variety of foods
and a short
crops fail as
they do every
few years, black bears are forced to travel
widely in search of food. Their desperation brings them
Berry crop failures can also affect the reproduction
of black bears. Pregnant bears go through
a process known as delayed
implantation. This means that
the embryo lies dormant in the uterus for
several months, and does
not begin to develop
until November or December. During a bad
berry year, if
the female is in poor condition the embryos
will not implant and no cubs
will be born.
saves the mother's life.
In October, when the temperature drops and
the snow flies, black bears search for
new den sites