Appearance

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.

DIET

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.

BEHAVIOR

Black bears are considered true hibernators. In this ecosystem, they typically enter hibernation in November and awaken in late March. During that 4-5 month period, they do not eat or drink, 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.

Our Black Bears

Taxonomy

KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Carnivora
FAMILY: Ursidae
GENUS: Ursus
SPECIES: americanus

conservation status

IUCN Status LC.png

Least Concern

MOST ACTIVE

Active Time Crepuscular.png

Crepuscular

  BLUEBEARY  is from the Flathead Indian Reservation. She came to us as a small cub, and can't be released because she's habituated to humans. About a quarter of all the black bears in the Rocky Mountains have a white patch on their chest like BlueBeary does. Can you guess from her name what one of her favorite foods is?

BLUEBEARY is from the Flathead Indian Reservation. She came to us as a small cub, and can't be released because she's habituated to humans. About a quarter of all the black bears in the Rocky Mountains have a white patch on their chest like BlueBeary does. Can you guess from her name what one of her favorite foods is?

  BO , born in 2007, is our youngest bear. He was orphaned and found by loggers west of Missoula. After staying with the loggers for a while, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Helena and then to us. He has been sharing a habitat with Blueberry since he was a few months old.

BO, born in 2007, is our youngest bear. He was orphaned and found by loggers west of Missoula. After staying with the loggers for a while, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Helena and then to us. He has been sharing a habitat with Blueberry since he was a few months old.

  BUSTER  was taken from his mother illegally when he was a cub and became habituated to humans. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks decided it would be unsafe to release him into the wild. He's very large for a black bear, usually weighing in at about 450 pounds.

BUSTER was taken from his mother illegally when he was a cub and became habituated to humans. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks decided it would be unsafe to release him into the wild. He's very large for a black bear, usually weighing in at about 450 pounds.

  WINNIE , born in April of 1994, was orphaned when her mother was shot during hunting season, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks transferred her here at about the same time as Buster. She is a climber, often found on top of the lockout between the two areas of the habitat she shares with Buster.

WINNIE, born in April of 1994, was orphaned when her mother was shot during hunting season, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks transferred her here at about the same time as Buster. She is a climber, often found on top of the lockout between the two areas of the habitat she shares with Buster.

 

Bear-Related Episodes of our Podcast