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Black Bears are the most common bears in North America and the only known bears in Colorado. Estimates show their numbers nearing 12,000 in Colorado and exceeding 800,000 across North America. They can be found throughout the continent, including 41 of the 50 United States. Every Black Bear has a home range in which it will seek out a variety of different food sources depending on the time of year. With a range of up to 250 square miles, a Black Bear will have access to ripe berries, abundant fish, newly sprouted vegetation or carrion in the appropriate season.
Identifying A Black BearThere is no confusing a Black Bear for a Grizzly in Colorado. Partly because the physical characteristics of the much smaller Black Bear differ so greatly from the Grizzly, but also because there are no known Grizzlies in Colorado anymore. American Black Bears (Ursus americanus) are typically...well...black as their name implies. Some, however, will range in color anywhere from a near white to brown or honey color. With hind legs longer than his forelegs, the Black Bear walks with a distinctive gait. Another identifying characteristic of the Black Bear´s movement is the swaying strides taken as both legs on one side move in unison. This is quite unlike most other quadrupeds, which step with alternating legs on each side unless sprinting. The Black Bear usually ranges in length from five to six feet and stands at about seven feet measured at the shoulder. On average a female weighs around 300 pounds but can reach weights of 400. Males can weigh any where from 300-600 pounds. The largest males can, on rare occasion, stand over nine feet tall and weigh over 800 pounds.
Black Bear Family LifeBlack Bears in Colorado will typically hibernate in winter. During hibernation, the bears will not eat, drink, defecate or urinate but unlike other hibernating mammals, they do remain somewhat alert and their body temperatures do not drop significantly. It is during hibernation that cubs are born. A hibernation den is very rarely used twice. The mating season usually runs from June through mid-August. Females (Sows) that have reached a breeding age of 2 years or more will mate with males (Boars) of the same age, assuming the male has fought to win breeding rights. Cubs, usually 3-4, are born blind and helpless in or around February. Mother and cubs will leave their den in early spring. Once the cubs have been weaned by late July, the mother will start teaching them how to forage for food as well as how to climb to escape danger. Cubs will stay with their mother through the winter and begin to venture off on their own during their second summer.
Black Bear DietThe Black Bear, which is omnivorous will, on occasion, kill and eat small Deer or young Elk. The swat of a Black Bear´s paw can break a grown Elk´s neck. Most often though, Black Bears will limit the meat in their diet to Salmon or carrion, the discarded carcasses of animals killed by other predators. The Black Bear will not stray far away from trees and bushes bearing fruit such as black berries, raspberries and chokecherries. The main source of protein is usually insects. A favorite is bees. Black Bears will seek out bee hives both for their honey (yes they do love honey) as well as for the bee larvae.
What To Do If You Encounter A Black BearNow you are probably thinking: Well that´s obvious, play dead right? Wrong. This may work on Grizzly Bears, because they usually attack only if they feel they must defend themselves. Black Bear attacks are rare but when they do occur, the attack is often predatory. If you play dead, a Grizzly would most likely give a few sniffs, bat you around a bit, lose interest and walk away. Black Bears, however, seek out carrion as a source of food. Carrion are dead animals. Get it? If you ever come within range of a Black Bear it would probably run off without you ever knowing it was there. In the unlikely event you should ever encounter a Black Bear, the best course of action is similar to what one might do in a Mountain Lion encounter. Walk away slowly while speaking quietly to the animal. Raise your arms up to make yourself appear larger. Use sticks or rocks to defend your self ONLY if the animal becomes aggressive.
Unlike most bears, Black Bear mothers will usually not aggressively defend their cubs. Instead, they will often send the cubs up a near by tree if danger is present. It would not be wise, however, to tempt fate. Some Black Bears have been known to fight off intruders they feel are a threat to there young. If ever you see a bear cub in the wild assume the mother is nearby. You may not see her but you can bet she sees you. It would be best to quickly put as great a distance between yourself and the cub as possible. If you think you may have stumbled upon an injured or orphaned cub, unless you have seen proof that it´s mother has died or abandoned it, leave the area immediately. Make note of the location and inform a park official once you are safely away.Back To Colorado Wildlife