Black bears are familiar to many of us residing in the high country. Although called black bears, they are often times different colors. For example, they may be honey-colored, blond, brown, cinnamon or black. Additionally, they may have a tan muzzle or a somewhat unique white spot on the chest. Although brown bears are sometimes mistaken for grizzly bears, there are no known grizzlies living in Colorado at this time.
Adult females are called sows, adult males called boars, and youngsters called cubs. Adult females typically weigh in at around 175 pounds, whereas adult males weigh substantially more at 275 pounds and greater. Depending on the season, food supply and the gender of the bear, black bears may weigh anywhere between 100 and 450 pounds or greater. Black bears measure approximately 3 feet on all four legs, and can reach as tall as 5 feet when standing on their back legs.
Cubs den with their mother and littermates for their first year, and hibernate in the winter. By as early as their second spring, they will be self sufficient and separate from their mother by the second autumn.
In Colorado, the largest populations of black bears live in areas where Gambel Oak, Aspen trees, and open areas of chokeberry and serviceberry bushes are readily available. A black bear may have a range anywhere from 10 to 250 square miles.
Black Bears are taught by mother bears to eat natural foods, such as berries, nuts and insects. People who live or camp in bear country need to ensure they don’t teach bears to become “garbage bears” by being careless with leftover food refuse, as it is both dangerous to the bears and against the law. Bears who find human food, just once, can change their habits from eating their natural foods to seeking food from human residences and trash receptacles. If a bear doesn’t find an abundant food source, it will move on.
Male bears are capable of breeding as early as 3 years of age. Some female bears breed as early as 3 or 4 years of age, but 5 years is more common. After 2-3 months of gestation, 1 to 3 cubs are born mid-winter, often times while the mother is still denning. Newborn cubs, which weigh less than a pound at birth, are blind, toothless, and covered with very fine textured hair. When the cubs emerge from the den in early or mid-May, they will weigh anywhere between 10 and 15 pounds.
Learn about the 5 stages of activity and hibernation of bears from the North American Bear Center.
Facts about Black Bears
- Black is a species, not a color. In Colorado many black bears are blonde, cinnamon or brown.
Over 90% of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants. The rest is primarily insects and scavenged carcasses.
- Black bears are naturally shy, and very wary of people and other unfamiliar things. Their normal response to any perceived danger is to run away.
- In Colorado, most bears are active from mid-March through early November. When food sources dwindle they head for winter dens.
- With a nose that’s 100 times more sensitive than ours, a bear can literally smell food five miles away.
- Bears are very smart, and have excellent memories. Once they find food, they continue coming back to that location for more.
- During late summer and early fall months bears need 20,000 calories per day to gain enough weight to hibernate through winter without food or water.
- Bears aren’t naturally nocturnal, but frequently travel at night to avoid human interaction.