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Facts About Adirondack Black Bears

Did you hear a rustle in the bushes during a hike? See a dark figure up in a tree while on a drive? You just may have encountered the elusive Adirondack black bear! Read on to learn more about these extraordinary animals and tips on what to do if you come face to face with one.

mother and baby black bears

The black bear (Ursus americanus) is a symbol of the Adirondacks. The region is home to the highest concentration of black bears in the state—around 4,000 of them. They're second only in mammal size to moose in the Adirondacks.

And like moose, black bears are generally solitary creatures who prefer to avoid human interaction. You probably won't see one. However they can be aggressive if encountered, so you need to be prepared when you venture out for an Adirondack adventure.

Quick Facts About Black Bears

On average, the adult Adirondack black bear:

  • Is 4.5-5 feet long
  • Is 5-7 feet tall (standing on hind legs)
  • Weighs 150-600 pounds
  • Can run up to 30 mph
  • Has a lifespan of ~30 years
  • Spends 5 months of the year hibernating

What do black bears look like?

It's not surprising that they're usually black, but they can occasionally have a white spot on their chest or a cinnamon coat. They typically have long, straight ears and a long snout.

What do black bears eat?

They're omnivores, and most of their diet is plant-based. They'll also eat insects and the occasional reptile, amphibian, deer or small woodland creature. They eat a lot, and must constantly forage for food.

Where do black bears live?

In the fall, bears find suitable dens to settle in for a long hibernation. In the spring, they venture out into the wild to eat.

How can you tell a black bear from a grizzly bear?

  • Black bears are smaller and darker in color than grizzlies.
  • Black bears have longer, straighter ears. Grizzlies have short, flat ears.
  • Grizzlies have larger shoulders and claws.
  • Black bears have straight snouts, while grizzlies have more dished-in faces.
  • A black bear's backside is higher than its shoulders when walking on all fours. A grizzly's backside is lower than its shoulders.

For more information on the difference between black bears and other types of bears, consult the National Park Service.

Adirondack black bear wandering around during the fall

How to Avoid an Encounter With a Black Bear

  1. Get a bear canister. By now you know that black bears love to eat. So much so, that they'll follow anything scented. When you're camping or stopping in the Adirondack woods, stow all your food, toiletries and water in a special portable bear-proof canister. You can find one at your local outdoor outfitter. Some campsites may even have bear "boxes" you can use as well.
  2. Hike during the day. Bears are more active and hungry at dusk and dawn.
  3. Be loud. The louder and more boisterous the better.
  4. Stay in a group. There's strength in numbers, and bears don't like those odds.
  5. Stay on the trail. Bears like to avoid human interaction, so they will generally avoid places where it's more common to encounter them.
black bear standing near a river looking for food

What to Do if You Encounter an Adirondack Black Bear

It's not likely that you will see one during your time in the region, though it can be a real treat if you are able to see one at a safe distance. However, if you encounter one in an unsafe situation, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and those you're with.

  1. Do NOT approach the bear. Approaching one may provoke an attack.
  2. Do NOT run away. If the bear is not moving, you can move sideways slowly. But in general, it is best to wait until the bear moves away before you try to get away.
  3. Stay calm.
  4. Talk to the bear in a low voice. Do not scream or shout. Low tones will signal to the bear that you are not a threat.
  5. Use bear spray. A bear attack is very rare; however, if a bear starts to charge, spray directly toward its face. It should have an effect similar to pepper spray on humans.
  6. If you are attacked, try to escape. The National Park Service does not recommend playing dead in the event of a black bear attack (it does, however, recommend this for grizzlies). If you cannot escape, attempt to fight back with anything you can find.
close up of a black bear's face