Black bear at Konrad Lake, Labrador, Canada just before it made a charge (photo copyright © Joe Brazil, used with permission)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus americanus americanus (Pallas, 1780)

Description:  A medium-sized bear but one of the largest subspecies of U. americanus.  Up to around two metres in length.  Adult males usually weigh around 200 kg and females around 120 kg.  Pelage is almost always black with a tan muzzle.

Range:  Extends in the USA from eastern Montana to the Atlantic coast and from Alaska south and east through Canada to the Atlantic and south to Texas.

Habitat:  Forested areas of mixed woodlands and swamps.

Status:  Population generally stable and thought to be increasing in some areas.  The species as a whole has the IUCN listing “of least concern”.

Life span:  Due to widespread hunting the average life span in the wild could be as low as ten years although individuals may live up to 30 years.

Food:  Omnivorous.  Plants and insects form the most significant part of the Eastern black bear’s diet including inner tree bark, grasses and forbs in the spring.  In summer they add to their diet with roots, honey, nuts and fruits including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, apples and cherries. They rip open rotting logs, overturn rocks and dig in the ground searching for invertebrates. Will also eat fish, rabbits, mice, carrion and rarely deer fawns and moose calves.

Behaviour:. Sexually mature around four years of age females give birth in the winter den in January or February after mating in June or July.  Litters can be of one to five cubs, two or three are the most common.  The cubs remain with the mother for around 17 months during which time she will not become pregnant again.  Eastern black bears are shy of humans but will approach populated areas when natural foods are in short supply.  The bears can be unpredictable and mothers with cubs can be particularly dangerous if surprised.

Threats:  Conflicts with humans are an increasing problem as the frequency of interactions between humans and bears grows.  This is largely due to increasing populations of both bears and humans but also due to natural food shortages which may be a symptom of climate change.  Road development in Eastern black bear habitat increases the risk of traffic fatalities, creates barriers to natural bear movements and also brings people and bears into closer proximity to one another.  Poaching for bear parts to be used in medicine is a growing problem but not yet widespread in North America.  Hunting is generally well-regulated although in some states is carried out using dogs or bait stations.


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Page updated 08 March 2020