American black bear

America’s smallest and most widely distributed bear, endemic to North America

Jim Martin

American black bear


America’s smallest and most widely distributed bear, endemic to North America

Population 950,000
18% annual growth rate from 1998 to 2012

A symbol of North America’s wilderness, it embodies the adaptability and resilience required to thrive across diverse habitats. These bears, characterized by their predominantly black fur, though shades can vary from chocolate brown to cinnamon and even white in rare cases, have carved out an existence in forests, mountains, and swamps, demonstrating an incredible ability to coexist in environments altered by human presence.

Despite their name, the American black bear’s diet is omnivorous, consisting of a mix of plants, fruits, nuts, insects, smaller mammals, and carrion. This dietary flexibility allows them to take advantage of the changing seasons, shifting their focus to different food sources as they become available. In the spring, fresh shoots and grasses form a significant part of their diet; summer brings berries and fruits into their menu, while fall sees them consuming nuts and acorns to build up fat reserves for the winter.

The life cycle of the American black bear is closely tied to the seasonal changes in its habitat. It is a solitary animal for most of the year, with the exception of females with cubs or during the mating season in summer. Females give birth during the winter in the seclusion of their dens, with cubs born blind and dependent. These dens, located in hollowed-out trees, caves, or dugout burrows, serve as a warm refuge for the mother and her newborns during the colder months.

The American black bear’s intelligence and adaptability have been widely noted. They can open screw-top jars and manipulate door latches, showcasing their problem-solving abilities. This intelligence, however, also leads them into conflict with humans, as they can become accustomed to human-provided food sources, such as garbage bins, campsites, and bird feeders. Such conflicts underscore the importance of maintaining a respectful and cautious distance from these wild animals, emphasizing the need for human residents in bear habitats to adopt bear-wise practices.


Population est.
Official estimate
Official estimate
United States
Official estimate

Did you know?

  • They are excellent climbers and are able to scale trees to escape predators or access food sources.
  • Black bears are the most common bear species in North America and can be found in 41 of the 50 United States.
  • They have an incredible sense of smell, which is seven times stronger than a bloodhound’s.
  • They have an excellent memory and can remember food sources and their locations for up to several years.
  • They are excellent swimmers and can swim long distances across lakes and rivers.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No