Small but numerous
The black bear Ursus americanus is the smallest, yet most common, of the three bear species found in America (after the polar and grizzly). The current population estimate is 750,000 individuals.
Home on the range
Black bears are only found in North America. The species ranges from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south, and lives predominantly in forests, feeding on fruit, nuts, shoots and vegetation.
The high life
Black bears are excellent climbers and are often photographed scaling trees. Their claws give them great grip, and the branches offer youngsters safety from predators. Cubs can be very adventurous, climbing high into the treetops.
Black bears are also good swimmers, and will readily enter water in search of fish. Black bear cubs take to the water easily and quickly, and one adult is believed to have swum nine miles along the Gulf of Mexico.
Black bears tend to shuffle along slowly when walking, but are able to run at speeds of around 40-50kph. However, they cannot maintain this pace for long. Plump bears in heavy winter coats tire out particularly quickly.
Despite their name, black bears are not always black – they can also be light brown, blond or even grey-blue. A subspecies of black bear with white fur, known as the Kermode or spirit bear, lives in British Columbia.
Female black bears can give birth to up to six cubs, and usually breed every other year. Cubs stay with their mother for about 18 months.
Black bears will leave the forest and travel many miles to seek food, entering back gardens and campsites. They have an exceptional sense of smell, leading them to seek out food items in rubbish bins and outdoor storage facilities. They are also perfectly capable of breaking into cars.
According to Born Free USA, black bears can be legally hunted in 27 states in America, and between 40,000 to 50,000 bears are legally hunted there each year. More are illegally poached.
If you come across a bear at close range, the usual advice is to retreat slowly, still facing the bear. Do not run. Bears are known to make mock-charges to within a few metres – if they do this, stand your ground and shout.