Black bear tracks are distinctive with the hind footprint resembling a person’s. Bears are pigeon-toed and walk with plantigrade locomotion (soles of the feet flat on the ground). Tracks show five toes, with the front print short and generally measuring four to five inches in width. The hind print typically measures approximately seven inches in height. Tracks do not always indicate the size of a bear and claw marks are not always visible, although commonly seen in prints in the mud. See photo examples of bear tracks.
Black bear scat is easily distinguishable. Bears have fairly inefficient digestive systems so most foods pass right through. A bears diet is clear upon examination of its scat. In the spring, scat consists mainly of vegetation, mostly grasses. In the fall, it may be a mash consisting of mostly acorns or contain mainly berries, which are swallowed whole. Seeds pass through the digestive tract unbroken and able to germinate, making black bears important seed dispersers. See photo examples of bear scat.
Black bears spend a lot of time in trees and climb trees when threatened, so claw marks from bears climbing trees are often found. Cubs learn early to climb trees for safety and bears will climb aspen trees in the spring to reach catkins, a popular early food source. See photos of claw marks on trees.
Other sign includes rocks overturned or logs torn apart, both in search of ants, larvae and other insects. Watch a YouTube video of a bear turning over rocks. Daybeds are often located in areas of shade and often near large trees, sometimes ringed with scat. Bears have thick, heavy fur coats by early fall, so they will wallow in water depressions to cool off. As they feed on fruit trees they will often leave a wide, stamped down circle of grass. Because it makes for easier travel, bears will often use the same trails or roads people use. See photo examples of other bear sign.
Bears often use trees and other objects as scratching posts and as a sort of “message board” for bears, communicating their gender, breeding status and more. Read more about bear use of rub trees.
Video of bears visiting a rub tree in Alberta, Canada, courtesy: Alberta Parks.
Video of bears visiting rub trees from the USGS Northern Divide Bear Project in Glacier NP.