The American Black Bears
The black bear, Ursus americanus, is a familiar sight to many British Columbians. It can be found in the wilderness or wandering through backyards. How familiar are you with this furry resident of the forest?
To begin with, black bears are not always black. This sometimes leads to the confusion between black bears and grizzly bears, Ursus arctos. Coat colours for black bears can range from chocolate-brown to cinnamon brown to blonde. And even white, as seen with the Kermode, or Spirit Bears, whose unique colouring is the result of a rare recessive gene. Occasionally you may see a white v-shaped blaze on a darker bear’s chest.
To identify a black bear, look for distinctive features such as rounded ears, a long snout and lack of a shoulder hump. Do not let their lumbering appearance fool you though as these bears can outrun a racehorse. Their short hooked claws make them agile tree climbers. The black bears in the Sproat lake area are a sub-species of the ones found on the main land and are not usually aggressive in nature. Although they can be dangerous when cornered and feel threatened. Our black bears are very afraid and will cry like a human when frightened.
While black bears are generally smaller than the grizzly, healthy males can still be a formidable presence. With the largest of them tipping the scales at 275 kg (600lbs). Adult females weigh in anywhere from 40-180 kg (90-400 lbs) . Their cubs emerging from the den as inquisitive balls of fur at 2-4 kg (4-9 lbs). We have not seen grizzly bears in the Sproat Lake area to date.
Breeding of Black Bears
Breeding occurs in the summer months. Healthy females will reach maturity at 3-4 years of age with litters every 2 years. Males are mature enough to reproduce at 3-4 years of age as well. But may not be big enough to win fights for breeding rights until 4 or 5 years of age. Cubs are born blind and nearly helpless during the winter while the mother is in her den. They will nurse her rich milk and grow into very energetic young bears by the time spring thaw arrives. These cubs generally stay with their mother through their first winter and become independent by their second summer.
Forested and shrubby areas are the preferred habitat, but black bears can be found in a wide range of environments from Alaska to Mexico; Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean. They can be found in all of the Canadian provinces (except for PEI), 41 US states and northern portions of Mexico.
Being omnivorous and opportunistic in their feeding habits, black bears include a wide range of natural foods in their diet. Their diet is predominantly herbs, nuts & berries but will also dine on carrion, rodents and the young of deer & elk. Black bears are also known for their fish catching prowess and coastal bears will forage on shellfish at low tide.
As you can see, not just your average bear!
To report any wildlife-human interactions where public safety may be at risk, call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).
Information provided by Christina Brack, Bear Smart BC Society Volunteer and Crystal McMillan, Executive Director Bear Smart BC Society
For more “Bear Smart” information, questions, concerns or to volunteer please contact: Christina Brack 250-723-9200