Despite the name, black bears aren’t always black. About half of the black bears in Yellowstone Park have brown, blonde or cinnamon (red) fur. A few are almost pure white, and they’re known as spirit bears. All four of our black bears are black, and two of them have the distinctive white patch on their chest that about a quarter of the black bears in the Rocky Mountains sport.
A typical male is 210-315 pounds; females 135-200 pounds. Our biggest black bear, Buster, weighs in at over 450 pounds.
Black Bears in this ecosystem
Black bears are a common sight in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. There are an estimated 500-650 in Yellowstone Park, and they’re a common sight in Grand Teton National Park and in other areas throughout the ecosystem. They rarely bother people, with an average of one person injured by a black bear in Yellowstone National Park every five years. “Town bears” can become a problem, as they’ll forego their natural diet in favor of human garbage.
There are an estimated 600,000 black bears in North America, roughly half of which live in the United States.
Black bears are true omnivores. In the wild, their diet includes mostly rodents, insects, elk calves, cutthroat trout, pine nuts, grasses and other vegetation.
Our bears at the Sanctuary get a diet of mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, supplemented with bear kibble for protein. Enrichment includes fresh meat, peanut butter, honey, and other appropriate treats.
While they can be found out and about at most times of day, their primary foraging time is dusk and dawn, thus their classification as crepuscular. In this ecosystem, they tend to be more active during the day when the grizzlies are least active.
There has been much debate over whether black bears hibernate or whether they go into a “torpor” state in the winter. Recent consensus leans toward black bears being true hibernators (Yellowstone National Park and the North American Bear Center have good articles on this). In this ecosystem, they typically enter hibernation in November and awaken in late March. During that 4-5 month period, they do not eat, drink, or defacate, and their urine is reabsorbed into their bodies.
Even though our bears share habitats, they don’t share dens. Each bear has its own hillside den where they hibernate on the same schedule as the wild bears. See our blog post about the first of our bears awakening last spring.