American black bear

Ursus Americanus

Black bears are found throughout Canada, the United States, and the northern half of Mexico. They prefer remote, inaccessible areas. They are extremely adaptable and show a great variation in habitat types, though they are primarily found in forested areas with thick ground vegetation and an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation.

The Life of a Black Bear

Black bears are the smallest bears native to North America. Males weigh up to 600 pounds, and females up to 200 pounds. In spite of their name, their fur can be yellow-brown, cinnamon or grey-blue, usually depending on their home location. Their muzzles tend to be lighter than the rest of their fur.

Black bears are opportunistic omnivores—that is, they will eat whatever is available, from plants, nuts and berries to small mammals and carrion. Their diet varies with season and location. Their teeth are adapted to this widely varied diet, with huge canine teeth to rip meat off bones and flat molars to chew plants and nuts. If food is scarce in winter, they can slow their metabolism and spend months sleeping in a den.

Black bears have a keen sense of both smell and hearing, and communicate with body and facial expressions, sounds and touch. Scent markings communicate territory boundaries to other bears. Black bears breed between June and July, but the fertilized eggs do not implant in the female's womb until November. They then develop quickly over the course of 10 weeks. The mother is usually in a den hibernating when her litter of 1 to 5 cubs is born in January or February.

Cubs weigh less than a pound at birth and are born naked and blind. Safe in the den, the cubs are nursed throughout the winter, and emerge with their mother in spring weighing a more robust 4.5 to 11 pounds. They stay with their mother until they are about 17 months old.

Black bears live 10 to 20 years.

American Black Bear conservation

Black bears once lived in larger numbers throughout North America, but hunting and agriculture have driven them into heavily forested areas. In their current locations, black bears are numerous and thriving, but they continue to be threatened by habitat destruction, poaching and motor vehicle accidents.

How to help black bears

Metro manages natural areas and wildlife corridors throughout the Portland metropolitan area that serve as important habitat for black bears, cougars and other species. As a site steward, you can help keep natural areas healthy by volunteering to monitor wildlife, clear invasive species or plant native shrubs. Find a natural area near you and submit a site steward application.

American Black Bears at the Oregon Zoo

The zoo’s black bears live in Black Bear Ridge. Their diet includes red meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, fresh greens, and omnivore chow.


Takoda, which means "friend to all" in Sioux, was orphaned in Montana. Because he had close interactions with humans, he was deemed a hazard if released into wild. Takoda arrived at the Oregon Zoo in November 2010, and can be identified by a large white "V" on his chest...


Cubby was born at the Chahinkapa Zoo in North Dakota. He was transferred to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2003, and arrived at the Oregon Zoo in May 2010. Cubby was named Oregon Zoo's Father of the Year in 2011 after "adopting" Takoda, a behavior rarely seen in male black bears in the wild...


Tuff was born on a private breeder's property in Missouri. He was illegally sold and confiscated by officials. Tuff was transferred to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2003, and arrived at the Oregon Zoo in May 2010...


Dale was found orphaned as a cub in Minnesota in April 2001. She was deemed a hazard if released into wild due to close interactions with humans. Dale arrived at the Oregon Zoo in May 2010 from Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah...