Black bears are the smallest American bears, and the most common. They are the only bears found in the wild in California. Although the grizzly bear is the state mammal, it has been extinct in California since 1922.
Black bears are usually nocturnal, but can be active during the day. Bears are strong, agile, and quick. They swim and climb trees well. A bear can run 30 miles per hour in short bursts.
Bears eat a wide variety of foods. A partial list includes: grass, leaves, nuts, berries, buds, twigs, roots, corn, fruits, insects, plant sprouts, invertebrates, fish, carrion, fruit, succulent plants, eggs, birds, small mammals, and human garbage. Bears will dig up underground wasp nests to eat the insects, nest and all. They are extremely hungry when they emerge from their winter dormancy period in the spring and will often strip the bark off trees to eat the sugary cambium layer. The bears in the region do not hibernate all winter, but they do sleep away the harshest part of winter. Bears den in logs, beneath fallen trees, and in caves. Several days before entering the den, a bear consumes roughage, including leaves and bits of its own hair. These form a plug up to a foot long in the digestive system that is voided after the bear emerges from the den.
One or two young are born during the winter, usually in January or February. They weigh ½ pound at birth and grow quickly by nursing on the mother's milk, which can contain as much as 20% fat.
Bear droppings are over an inch thick, and tubular. The scat varies with diet, which can be 90% vegetable matter.
Bears are shy animals and will usually run from humans. They sometimes raid human garbage, compost piles, or pet food dishes that are left outside.
The inner toe in the track is the smallest toe. Bears walk plantigrade or flat-footed. Bears use the same trails over and over for generations. They tend to place their feet in exactly the same place every time they use the trail. You can find these trails where each footfall is in a depression worn into the ground by the passage of so many bears over the years.
Click here to see drawings of bear tracks.
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