Only the black bear is known to exist in Rocky Mountain National Park. Because they avoid humans, they are not often seen. Its northern cousin, the grizzly bear is no longer found in Colorado.
Black bears are not always black. Frequently they are brown or cinnamon colored. Its body is heavy and is supported by short, powerful legs. They vary in size and weight: males reaching as much as 500 pounds and measuring about three feet high when on all four feet and five feet tall standing upright. Females may reach 200 pounds.
A black bear has a home range where it finds all it needs. It travels to different areas of its home range as snow recedes, plants sprout, and berries ripen. This range may be anywhere from 10 to 250 square miles. Black bears are excellent tree climbers. They are fast-moving and can easily outrun the quickest human.
Hunting and Feeding Habits
Black bears are omnivores eating both plants and animals. About 90 per cent of its diet is made up of plants. They may be active anytime, day or night, but most often during morning and evening twilight. When not feeding they rest in day beds next to a log in a windfall, in dense brush, or in a depression.
After fattening up in the autumn on as many as 20,000 calories a day, black bears slumber from late November to March, living on stored fat. Their dens may be in rock caverns, excavated holes beneath shrubs or trees, in hollow logs or rotten trees, or in brush thickets. Bears may leave the den before snow has left the ground but greenup has usually begun at lower elevations.
Mating and Breeding
Male bears are capable of breeding at three years of age. Female bears usually have their first cubs at about five years. They mate in early summer. The female bear generally does not breed again while her cubs are with her. The gestation period is usually about two to three months. The cubs weight less than one pound at birth and are blind, toothless, and covered with very fine hair. The cubs stay with the mother for about one year.
Sighting a Black Bear
If you see a black bear, stop and do not run. Stay calm and pick up small children. Make lots of noise, shouting and clapping your hands. Back away slowly. Stand tall, but if attacked, fight back.
Black bears will eat almost anything. Most conflicts between bears and people are linked to careless handling of food or garbage. Once a bear has found food which is easily accessible, it will overcome its wariness of people and visit the site often. If you are on the trail, keep food with you at all times and do not leave your pack unattended. At backcountry campsites, all food, cooking equipment, garbage, and scented or odorous items must be stored in a carry-in/carry-out bear-resistant food storage canister (required May - Oct for all backcountry sites below treeline). In campgrounds, these items as well as water containers and pet food must be stored in a closed vehicle or campground-provided food storage locker. Storage in tents, pop-up campers, sleeping bags or under tarps is prohibited. If left unattended, these items are subject to confiscation by park rangers. The only exceptions to these rules occur during food transport, preparation, eating, and cleanup
Did You Know?
The male Western Tanager, with red head and yellow body, stands out brightly in the dark conifer forest.