Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Critter Post 2: American Black Bear


Fishing black bearWe saw our first black bear of the 2017 summer on the shore of Wrangell Narrows as we passed through on our way to Petersburg, Alaska. So I decided to make the American Black Bear the subject of Critter Post No. 2. (For those of you who didn’t see Critter Post 1, the inspiration for this series came from fellow blogger, sailor, and birder who writes a regular Bird Photography Challenge post on her site s/v Take It Easy.)


Black Bear in Southeast Alaska

Basic Facts:

Native to North America, the black bear is the most widely-distributed bear across the continent. It is listed as Least Concern due to its large population, about twice that of all other bear species combined. Black bears split from their common ancestor with the brown and polar bears over 5 million years ago. They are divided into several subspecies, among them the Kermode or “spirit” bear – whose fur is actually white – of northern coastal British Columbia. Their size varies considerably with age, sex, and season – they weigh much more in the late summer before hibernation than in spring when they emerge from their dens. Adult males typically weigh between 125 and 550 pounds.

Black Bear

Black Bear in British Columbia (not a Kermode)

Range and Habitat:

Black bears prefer forested terrain with thick undergrowth, and occur throughout the East Coast of North America, northern Midwest, Rocky Mountains, West Coast, and Alaska. The largest population in the Lower 48 is in Maine, with an estimated 30,000 bears.

Black bear, Olympic National Park

Black Bear in Olympic National Park, Washington State


Black bears are omnivores. They eat new grasses, wetland plants, buds, berries, fruits, and the nuts of forest trees (they sometimes raid the caches of squirrels), insects – yellow jackets, ants, and bees – honey (think Winnie the Pooh!), salmon (for coastal bears), trout, catfish, carrion, and – opportunistically – deer fawns. bear-and-salmon

Food for:

Pretty much no one. Black bears sometimes find themselves in competition over carcasses with mountain lions or wolves and tend to have better success stealing carrion from cougars than from wolves. Black bears avoid brown/grizzly bears. Black bear in river

Behavior and Characteristics:

Black bears have excellent hearing, eyesight, and sense of smell. They swim and climb trees well. They are territorial and don’t often tolerate the presence of other black bears, although this is not as true in places where food is abundant (such as salmon spawning runs).

-My fishing spot!- Black bear altercation

Black bears argue over a prime fishing spot, Alaska

Sows have their first offspring at 3-5 years and the litter size is generally 2-3 cubs. They stay with their mother for their first year. Black bear family

Black bears hibernate each winter, their heart rate dropping to only 8 beats per minute, although their body temperature does not drop significantly. They live on average 18 years, sometimes as long as 23 years. Black bear with cubs

Black bear on BC coast

12 thoughts on “Critter Post 2: American Black Bear

  1. Great images, especially the first one.

  2. Beautiful pictures and good information. Apparently we in Washington State also have a large number of black bear, ranging between 25 – 30,000. I have seen a few of them in the wild here, but usually scurrying across a road. thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, and sorry I took so long to respond – I had scheduled the post and didn’t have internet when it went up. Great to hear there are so many black bear in WA – I’m not actually that surprised given the large percentage of forest!

  3. Thanks for your good coverage. I’m so glad we have black bears here in Pennsylvania and not grizzlies!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Don! Sorry to take so long to respond – I haven’t had internet for a while (all these posts are scheduled in advance).

  4. Great post and fantastic images, Ellen! We especially like your feature one where the bear is catching a fish and the one of the mum standing up with the two cubs. Surprised to hear these bears are not threatened and that they live only to their 20s. We thought they lived longer lives. Thanks for the mention😊

  5. Great pics!! Fun explanation. 🙂

  6. Beautiful creatures.