The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is the most common bear in the United States and the smallest of the three bear species found in North America. The last known grizzly bear in Colorado was killed in 1979 and while it is possible that a few secretive grizzlies remain in Colorado, it is increasingly doubtful with each passing year and it can be assumed that any bear you see is a black bear, regardless of its’ color.
The estimated statewide black bear population was updated in 2012 to around 16,000 animals. The estimated population in North America is around 900,000.
Although classified in the order Carnivora, they are omnivores, eating both plants and animals. Black bears are intelligent, creative and resourceful. Bears in general have the highest brain-to-body mass ratio of all carnivores and black bears are inquisitive, adaptive, intelligent animals that show insight and planning. They are remarkably tolerant of people. Bears are generally shy and wary, and prefer avoiding people as much as possible.
BLACK BEARS AT A GLANCE
Color: In southwest Colorado, 90% of black bears are some shade of brown. They may be cinnamon, honey-colored, reddish, blonde, black or brown. Individuals may change color drastically from year to year, or even in a period of months. See photos of color variation of local bears
Size: Black bears average three feet tall when standing on all four feet and five to six feet tall when standing upright.
Weight: On average, adult male bears weigh 275 pounds and females 175 pounds. Depending on the time of year, food supply and gender, they may weigh anywhere from 100 to 450 pounds. They are typically at their thinnest in early spring and at their highest weight in late fall. People tend to overestimate the size of black bears.
Sense of Smell: Astounding. Their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhounds and 100 times better than a human’s. They live by their noses and can smell chicken cooking on an outdoor grill from many miles away.
Eyesight: Keen, similar to humans. Bears see in color, have good close-up vision and their night vision is excellent.
Hearing: Good. Bears hear high pitches, exceeding human frequency range.
Attributes: They can run in bursts up to 35 mph, climb trees with great ease and are strong swimmers. Black bears are incredibly strong. They are shy, their normal response to any perceived danger is to run away. Bears have great memories, handy for remembering the locations of food sources and they have remarkable navigational abilities. Black bears have individual personalities. They are not nocturnal animals, but use the evening hours to avoid people. They are slow reproducers.
Lifespan: Black bears can live 25 years in the wild, but rarely live that long. Bears in hunted populations rarely live to be ten years old, often living only four to five years.
Two-thirds of human-bear conflict in the Province of Ontario were related to improperly stored garbage. – Dr. Martyn Obbard, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Banner photo: Tom Beck
Black bear photo: Claude Steelman / Wildshots