THE BLACK BEAR is known to more park visitors than any other animal in our national parks. It has aptly been described as the clown of the woods, and many people enjoy stopping to watch the bears that often frequent the park roadsides. "Hold-up" bears take advantage of this and make it a practice to sit by the side of a road waiting to be fed.
Adult males of the species are characterized by their large size, massive frame, and rough, shaggy coat. Some individuals have a characteristic white diamond-shaped mark located on the lower part of the neck, and this mark apparently persists throughout life.
Black bears make large plantigrade or human-like tracks, and these footprints often are the most conspicuous evidence of their presence. The track of the hind foot of an average adult bear, made in firm mud, has been found to measure 8 inches in length and 5 inches in width; the track of the front foot usually measures about 5 inches in width and length. The largest tracks I have ever measured were 10-1/2 inches long by 7 inches wide. The size of tracks made in snow are unreliable because when the snow melts they may still retain their distinct shape and yet be several inches larger than when made. Bears have a habit of stepping in the footprints of their predecessor, and when the animals are at all numerous their trails are usually a conspicuous item in the forest.
Ordinarily, black bears are silent creatures. However, when another male bear or an enemy approaches they will frequently give a low warning growl; also, when danger threatens, some adult bears will champ their jaws and click their teeth together in a menacing fashion and, upon approaching danger, a mother bear will give a warning "cough" to her cubs as a signal to climb a tree. If suddenly surprised, these animals are apt to give a snort or whistling sound, which is made by rapidly expelling their breath.
In the warm summer months bears are especially fond of taking mud baths. A large hollow Sequoia tree in Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park, is known as the "bears' bath tub" because the bears of the region frequently bathe in its water and mud-filled cavity.
Many of the so-called "bad" bears are merely those which have been spoiled, through feeding by park visitors, while they were cubs. This feeding has led them to associate human beings with food and when such food is not supplied promptly enough or in sufficient quantity they proceed to help themselves, often biting or scratching the persons feeding them. For this reason, the feeding of bears is banned by official order of the Director of the National Park Service, both as a protection to the public and to prevent pauperizing and spoiling the bears.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010