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Watchable Wildlife: Black Bear

A mature black bear
Black bear - Ursus americanus

Quick Facts

  • 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 up to 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.
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What to Watch for


Measured at the shoulder, black bears on all four paws are 2-3 feet high and 4 ½-5 feet long. While standing on its hind feet, a black bear can be 5-7 feet tall. Females weighs 150-250 lbs; males weigh 200-600 lbs.


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


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

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


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 contains mostly vegetation. In summertime, scat contains mostly berries; while in fall, scat has mostly nuts and acorns with occasional corn or apple contents.

Other Signs to Look for

Claw marks or scars on trees and bark torn or ripped off. They 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

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

More Information about Black Bears

Watch a clip about black bear and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel (links leave DEC website).

The Best Places to See Black Bears

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