American Black Bears

We lived 10 years in New Jersey where Black Bears could be seen but not as often as in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Last year the bear sightings were pretty rare on our street, but 2014 seems to be a “bear year”: 2 females with cubs were spotted over these past 10 days in our own backyard.

Black bear with cub

The American black bears, the world’s most common bear species, can be distinguished from brown bears (grizzly bears) by their smaller size, their less concave profiles, their shorter claws and the lack of a shoulder hump. They are also much less aggressive in New England. Black bears rarely attack when confronted by humans, and usually limit themselves to making mock charges, emitting blowing noises and swatting the ground with their forepaws. Unlike grizzlies, female black bears do not display the same level of protectiveness to their cubs, and seldom attack humans in their vicinity.
The woods along our property are an optimal habitat for black bears. They like forested areas with thick understory vegetation as well as wetlands.
Female black bears weigh 125-150 pounds, whereas adult males are larger, typically weighing 200-250 lbs. Adult male black bears may range up to 120 square miles, while females range over a smaller area, about 10 square miles. During spring, summer, and fall bears may be active during the day, but we usually see them at dawn and dusk.
Black bears enter their dens in October and November. Prior to that time, they can put on up to 30 pounds of body fat to get them through the seven months during which they fast. Hibernation in black bears typically lasts 3–5 months.
As snow disappears in the early spring hungry bears leave their winter dens. Early spring offers the promise of abundant bear foods, but yields no such benefit until grasses grow, bulbs sprout and flowers bloom. Black bears are opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when natural foods are not available (this is why we have a bear proof dumpster!). In summer, they will feed on more nutritious food including berries, fruits, roots, blossoms and insects, and will usually be less spotted in our area.

Females (sows) begin breeding at 3 to 5 years of age; most breed once every two years. The breeding period usually occurs in the June-August period and lasts 2-3 months. The gestation period lasts 235 days, and two to 4 cubs are usually born in late January or early February while the female is denning. Cubs are dependent on their mother’s milk for 30 weeks and will reach independence at 16-18 months.


– Black bears have five toes with well-developed claws on each foot. They walk on the soles of their feet, just like humans.
– Their keenest sense is the sense of smell, which is about 7 times greater than dogs.
– Black bears are excellent and strong swimmers, doing so for pleasure and to feed.
– Black bears climb regularly to feed, escape enemies or to hibernate. They are one of the half of bear species that are habitually arboreal
– The fertilized eggs undergo delayed development and do not implant in the female’s womb until November
– Black bears are highly dexterous, being capable of opening screw-top jars and manipulating door latches.
– Black bears have great physical strength. Even bear cubs have been known to turn over flat-shaped rocks weighing 310 to 325 pounds (141 to 147 kg) by flipping them over with a single foreleg.
– Black bears have good eyesight, and have been proven experimentally to be able to learn visual discrimination tasks based on color faster than chimpanzees and as fast as dogs. They are also capable of rapidly learning to distinguish different shapes, such as small triangles, circles and squares.
– The average lifespan in the wild is 18 years, though it is quite possible for wild specimens to survive for more than 23 years. The record age of a wild specimen was 31 years, while that in captivity was 44 years.