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Black Bear Foods



Black bears like to eat everything that tastes good!  This bear has had a big summer lunch, and is taking his afternoon nap!

Oh, Those Hot Summer Days!

Bear Takes A Snooze In Cades Cove, by Dale Rea

Reprinted with Permission to CoveBear.com from the Photographer

In the southern states and other areas, American Black Bears eat many different types of foods that people also eat, including fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, apples, and peaches. Black bears also eat small animals, but they account for only about 10% of a bear's diet.

Below are some of the foods that black bears may eat in the south - what kinds of natural foods do black bears eat where you live?

Southern U.S. black bear menu: In spring - Leaves, flowers, plants, grasses, insects, small animals, and honey; In summer - Berries, such as blueberries, dewberries, raspberries, and blackberries, small animals such as frogs, rabbits, crayfish, whitetail deer fawns, elk fawns in GSMNP, fish, etc.; fruits such as apples, peaches and wild cherries;  insects, such as bees, yellow jackets, wasps, ants, termites, grubs; bee honey, as well as our agricultural crops such as corn, sugar cane, melons, wheat, peanuts, soybean, and sunflower seeds, etc.; fungus, such as mushrooms; bird eggs; and seeds of many types. In fall - Nuts, such as pecans, walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, and small animals.

Northern U.S. black bear menu: In spring - Leaves, flowers, plants, grasses, small animals, and honey; In summer - Sarsaparilla berries, cherries, blueberries, cultivated crops, end of summer hazelnuts; In fall - Nuts, berries, and small animals including fish.

Extreme northern black bear menu (Yukon, Canada): In spring - Overwintered bearberries and cranberries, grasses, insects, small animals including fish, honey; In summer - Horsetails, soapberries, cottonwood catkins, crowberries, blueberries, cultivated crops, insects, honey, small animals including fish; In fall - Berries, insects, small animals including fish.

Extreme northwestern black bear menu (British Columbia, Canada and Alaska): In all seasons the same as above, with salmon, caribou and moose calves added where those animals are found.

Extreme northeastern black bear menu (Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada): Vegetation as well as calves or forest caribou.

Big bears eat tiny insects such as ants, termites, beetles, yellow jackets, bees, wasps, insect larva in nests and hives, and also grubs in logs.

Black bears are very smart animals, and their senses are keen. They have very long memories. They find a good food source by smelling it, or by following animal paths, or by their mother showing them. And they will come back, if possible, again.

In the spring, there are not a lot of fruits yet. Fruits arrive on a plant or bush or tree, after the leaves have had a chance to nourish the bush, and after the bush or tree has flowered; therefore most fruits are not mature and ripe until summer or fall.

So in spring, a black bear has to rely on the tender tree-top leaves of large trees, such as ash, and on leaves of short ground plants; they also eat lots of grasses, and flowers. Black bears particularly like dandelions and squawroot.

In summer, black bears find a bit more to eat. The foods of summer simply taste better. All black bears have a sweet tooth, and there are lots of summer foods that are sweet. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all favorites of bears in the U.S. Bears use their lips as tools in plucking only the ripest and sweetest berries off a bush. They will leave the rest for a week or so and return to check on their "crop." They spread berry seeds in their scat and in that way plant new bushes. Black bears are good farmers!



Apples, Peaches, Grapes, Blackberries, Wild Cherries - Bears eat fruits in summer

Black Bears eat Squawroot in spring and NUTS in fall



One wild type of fruit that black bears love is wild cherries. In the Southeastern U.S. this is a very important food for black bears. This is fruit so it is called "soft mast." These cherries are usually ripe end of August. These are very tiny and the bears will eat hundreds. They also scatter wild cherry pits from which new cherry trees will grow. Black bears also love people crops such as sunflower seeds, corn, sorghum, and most any kind of agricultural foods.

Bear-Proof Bin, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Many parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, are using bear-proof dumpsters so that bears won't become accustomed to eating people foods.

Another food that bears love is honey. Seeing a black bear get his honey is really something. First of all, these bears eat stinging insects, such as bees and yellow jackets and wasps, so they are not really bothered by angry bees guarding their hive. The only place that a black bear can be stung so that he really feels it is on his lips, near his eyelids, and on the tip of his ears. Sometimes a bear will get stung on his belly, but bears' skin is pretty tough and their fur is very thick. But a black bear will keep on eating that sticky honey, even though the bees are swarming. He finds honey by smelling it, and also by seeing it dripping out of a tree. Many times bees will build their hive inside of a tree, and sometimes the honey will drip out of the bark, revealing the treat. It has been found that bears of all types who eat too much honey and sweets actually get bad cavities in their teeth when they get older, so too much of a good thing is not always good. Tell that to the bears.

In summer insects are abundant. Bugs are tasty treats to bears. They will turn over rocks and dig in logs to find bugs.

In fall, black bears are eating nuts and acorns to try and gain weight before winter comes. They really like acorns in big oak trees, and all types of nuts: hickory nuts and pecans are real favorites too.

A recent article by Gordon S. Warburton of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission states the importance of acorns in the first sentence: "Acorn crop production significantly influences reproduction, survival, harvest rates, movements, and body condition of many animals." He lists deer, turkey, ruffed grouse, and black bear as some of the animals that depend on acorns in the fall each year. The upside to poor hard mast years is that these animals are adaptable and can survive if they can find alternate food sources. The downside to poor hard mast years is that bears must travel more than they normally would, in search of other foods. That increases the risk of injury or death as these bears must cross roads and enter areas with which they are not familiar. Also, more movement means bears are using up more calories in a period when they should be storing up calories to fatten up before winter denning time. The number of cubs born in that winter could be few or none if the females are not in good body and fat condition in the fall.

Black bears will return to the same trees every year, if they can, and they are acrobats in the treetops. They are incredibly agile and graceful up there, balancing on tiny limbs, and you wonder how they know how far to go out on a branch. Sometimes bears do fall out of trees, and they can be hurt badly if that happens. But whenever you see bears up in a tree, chances are they will not fall out. Black bears are very, very good at climbing trees.

In all seasons bears will feed on carrion, and also kill and eat smaller animals, such as young elk, deer, frogs, and fish.

But what food will a black bear really, really love to eat? YOURS!

Make sure that bears can't get into your picnic basket, cooler, or backpack by keeping it closed up, secure, and hoisted up away from your tent at night. Don't picnic near a stream where the noise of the water will muffle an approaching bear, either. That is how we met our first black bear! And don't litter in natural areas - the food smells on paper linger long after you are gone. Leaving wrappers on the ground teaches bears to search for people who may have food, and leaving food or garbage out teaches bears that garbage is easier to find than their natural foods. Garbage is not nutritious for bears and plastic and bottle caps and garbage bags can harm a bear's tummy. Don't feed bears!


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