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< > FEEDING BEHAVIOUR with literature reports for the American black bear - Ursus americanus: Use sub-contents list below, or simply scroll down the page to view findings.

BEHAVIOUR  - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

(Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Ursus americanus - American black bear)
  • These bears feed for as much as 12 hours a day. They may travel some distance looking for food. 
  • They will turn over stones, logs and buffalo dung looking for insects, tear apart decayed stumps and logs to reach grubs and insects, dig up roots, excavate rodent burrows and anthills and break branches of fruit trees. They occasionally climb trees to reach food and rip open trees to reach honeycombs, and remove bark from conifers in spring to reach the sapwood. 
  • When feeding on berries, bears preferentially choose those growing in clusters, feed partially by sight, and eat mainly the most obvious clusters. 
  • They will opportunistically eat available foods such as carcasses and large numbers of crickets. 
  • They may kill Alces alces - Moose cows and calves, and Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer fawns, and in some areas livestock. In the Labrador tundra, they hunt caribou (Rangifer tarandus - Reindeer) and small mammals. They also catch fish.
  • Black bears make use of garbage dumps and bait set by hunters.
  • Food caching has been seen occasionally.

Further information on diet is provided in American black bear Ursus americanus - Natural Diet (Literature Reports)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Feeding Behaviour

Source Information

  • These bears feed opportunistically. They may kill Alces alces - Moose cows and calves, and Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer fawns. In some areas livestock are killed by these bears. They will eat bait put out by hunters, and garbage where this is available. (D245)
  • Black bears have to eat for about 12 hours a day, eating one berry a second, just to maintain weight, if the diet is all berries. (B285.w4)
  • Tens of thousands of berries and nuts may be eaten daily. (B285.w4)
  • In the Labrador tundra, these bears hunt caribou (Rangifer tarandus - Reindeer) and small mammals. (B285.w4)
  • These bears in searching for food will turn over stones and logs looking for insects, tear apart decayed stumps and logs to reach grubs and insects, dig up roots, excavate rodent burrows and anthills, tear up berry patches, break branches of fruit trees. They climb trees to reach food and rip open trees to reach honeycombs. They are good fishers, wading in streams and lakes to catch fish in their mouths or pin them with a paw. (B180.w2)
  • Black bears have been seen turning over the dung chips of buffalo to get crickets or grasshoppers which were sheltering underneath, while eating mainly these insects which were present in large numbers . (J332.18.w1)
  • Bears may travel some distance out of their home ranges searching for food in fall (autumn). (B406.35.w35)
  • Bears are more likely to become nuisances when natural foods fail. (B406.35.w35)
  • When feeding on berries, bears preferentially choose those growing in clusters, feed partially by sight, and eat mainly the most obvious clusters. (D248.w7)
  • Bears feeding on ants turned rocks over or tore stumps open to expose the ants. (D248.w7)
  • Bears will feed at dumps. In northeastern Minnesota, bears typically started utilising dumps at the start of May. (D248.w6)
  • In northeastern Minnesota, after the mating season, males used garbage dumps for feeding more than they did during the mating season. Females foraged outside their territories during this period, moving distances averaging over 20 km outside their own areas. Females avoided competing with males at dumps, rarely using dumps outside their home range, although using those within their home ranges. Bears continued to feed on natural foods while these were available, as well as feeding at dumps, but continued feeding at dumps after no natural foods were available, increasing the period of food availability, growth and weight gain. (D248.w6)
  • Black bears may prey on newborns, animals who cannot escape due to injury, deep snow, confinement etc., and spawning fish hampered by shallow water. (D248.w9)
  • Black bears may feed on carcasses, including carcasses of other black bears, if available. (D248.w9)
  • Bears may smell at logs to find those containing ants, then tear these open. (D248.w5)
  • Food caching behaviour has been seen occasionally in American black bears. (J332.63.w1)
  • Bears feed using sight as well as scent; this may be particularly important for acquiring small food items. (J345.3.w1)
  • Black bears feed on the sapwood of 15- to 25-year-old conifers by removing the bark with their claws then scraping with their incisors. They may feed on 50-70 such trees a day during spring. (J40.65.w2)

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Authors & Referees

Authors

Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Referee

Ellen Dierenfeld (V.w16), David L. Garshelis (V.w98)

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