Black Bears

By Daniel Jacka / Photo by Tim Fitzharris

A black bear will eat your garbage. It's true. Although Ursus americanus prefers acorns, berries and insects, don't think he won't dig into your picnic basket for a bite, venture into a garden, raid the bird feeder or dive headfirst into a Dumpster. He will, and he'll love every minute of it.

Food reigns supreme for black bears, which will wander for miles in search of something to eat. On average, they'll roam an area of 7 to 15 square miles, but younger bears have been known to travel up to 100 miles away from their habitats to find new food.

Unfortunately, their hearty appetites aren't the only things driving black bears out of their normal ranges. Droughts, fires and urban development have taken a toll on bear habitats, and as a result, black bears have been found in unexpected places — like suburban backyards.

But don't Google "electric bear repellent fences" just yet. Shy and intelligent, bears do become exploratory as they approach homes or campgrounds in search of food, but they're unlikely to pick a fight with humans unless they're provoked. If you do come face to face, it will most likely occur in the early morning hours or very late in the evenings. If you're camping, be sure to heed bear warnings and make use of bear boxes and other airtight containers to keep Boo-Boo's nose out of your Ho-Hos.

When it comes to dining, black bears prefer to do so alone. They're somewhat solitary creatures, gathering only as family groups in breeding pairs or in large groups when there's a surplus of food. Females earn their own entourages around January, when they give birth to cubs — usually two or more at a time. Those cubs are born completely helpless and won't leave the den for the first four months of their lives. They remain with their mama bears through their second winters, until they're big enough to venture out on their own.

In terms of size, black bears are the smallest bear species in North America, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're petite. On average, black bears are about 3 feet tall — when they're standing on all fours — and about 5 feet long. They weigh 125 to 400 pounds, and males are typically larger than females — chalk up the difference to a lot of late-night snacking.