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Watchable Wildlife: Black Bear

A mature black bear
Black Bear - Ursus americanus

Did You Know?

  • Black bears are the second largest mammal in New York State. (The moose is the largest).
  • They are excellent climbers and can run at speeds of 25 mph.
  • Although bears remain dormant for up to five months in the winter, they are not considered "true hibernators" since they can wake up if disturbed.
  • Black bears are typically solitary animals traveling alone except when females have cubs. Typically, a female will have two to three cubs born in the winter while the female is in the den. Cubs stay with the adult female for over a year and then disperse as yearlings on their own.
watchable wildlife binoculars icon

What to Watch for:

Size:

4 ½ - 5 feet long and 2-3 feet high on all four paws at the shoulder. Standing on its hind feet a black bear can be 5- 7 feet tall. A female weighs 150-250 lbs; males weigh 200-600 lbs.

Appearance:

Covered in fur that is usually black with a long narrow brown muzzle (nose) and occasionally a small white patch in the shape of a "v" on the chest. They have small thick rounded ears and a short tail.

Tracks:

A front bear paw track in the earth
Left front bear track (Photo: North
American Bear Center)

Five toes, claw marks and a large heel pad. The hind tracks are longer and may reach 7 inches long by 5 inches wide, and the front tracks are smaller but often reaching 5 inches long by 5 inches wide.

Scat:

Bear droppings may be over an inch thick, and tubular. A pile of bear scat may be very large. The scat varies with diet and food availability based on the season. In the springtime scat will comprise mostly of vegetation, summertime scat is comprised mostly of berries, and fall scats have more nuts and acorns and sometimes corn or apples.

Other Signs to Look for:

Claw marks or scars on trees and bark torn or ripped off, which are usually made to mark the tree or because they are climbing the tree in search of food.

Where to Watch:

Black bears may be found in all areas of upstate New York. They are found in forests mixed with open areas and wetlands. They are also found in farmland and are sometimes attracted to cornfields where they may cause great damage. Black bears are generally shy and elusive. Learn to identify their tracks and look for those in soft ground, such as mud and along streams.

When to Watch:

Best time is in spring-time and summer-time during dawn or dusk hours, when they are actively searching for food. Sometimes they may even be spotted during the day.

More Information about Black Bears:

DEC TV icon

Watch a video clip about
Black Bear DEC TV

Black Bear Management

Black Bears in NY's Back Country

Black Bears, Campers and DEC Campgrounds

Bear Resistant Canisters

High Peaks Black Bear Study

The Best Places to See Black Bears:

Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center in Newcomb, Essex County

Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smith's, Franklin County

Allegany State Park, Cattaraugus County

Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area, Sullivan and Orange County

Return to the Watchable Wildlife main page