Although black bears (ursus americanus) inhabited Ohio prior to settlement of the region, unregulated hunting and the extensive deforestation that occurred by the mid-1800s as farms, towns, and industry were established resulted in a sizable reduction in the number of bears residing within the state's borders. Those bears that remained following this drastic change in habitat were either shot or trapped to protect livestock and crops from depredation. By the 1850s, black bears were considered extirpated from Ohio. However, occasional reports of their presence, particularly in south-central and southeastern Ohio, persisted and, in 1973, included a report of a sow (female) with cubs (offspring).
The black bear is the most common species of bear in North America. The name "black" bear can be somewhat misleading as this species appears in a range of color phases that include black, chocolate brown, cinnamon brown, blue-black, and even white. Its face, in profile, can be straight or Roman-nosed, a distinguishing characteristic that helps differentiate it from the dish-faced grizzly and Alaskan brown bears.
An adult black bear can weigh anywhere between 150 and 700 pounds. Males average 300 pounds while the smaller females average around 175. Males, when standing upright, measure between five and six feet tall; females, typical of mammals, are smaller, measuring four to five feet. On all fours, most adult black bears are between 2 1/2 and 3 feet at the shoulder.
Black bears are promiscuous breeders. Males in particular will mate with more than one individual, while females do on occasion. The peak mating activity takes place from mid-June through mid-July. Black bears are delayed implanters. Implantation of the fertilized egg usually occurs during early December, with gestation requiring six weeks.
First litters generally have only one cub. Two or three cubs are usually produced in subsequent litters. Generally, one litter is produced every other year. Sows and their cubs leave the dens when the cubs are approximately three months old. The young remain with the mother, who is the sole care giver, for the first year and a half of their lives. Growth during a cub's first year is rapid. At birth, the sightless cubs weigh about eight ounces. By the time that the cubs open their eyes at about six weeks of age, they weigh between three and four pounds. Typically, cubs weigh between 25 and 65 pounds by September and may, provided high quality food is readily available, weigh nearly 70-80 pounds by the time they enter the overwinter den with the sow in early November.
Habitat & Behavior
Black bears can be found from coast to coast throughout North America in a wide variety of the more heavily wooded habitats, ranging from swamps and wetlands to dry upland hardwood and coniferous forests, from the Yukon and Northwest Territory in Canada to the northern portions of Mexico. Although they will utilize open areas, bears prefer wooded cover with a dense understory.
Bears have a large home range and travel a great deal. Studies in other states indicate the home range of adult males to be 100 to 120 square miles in upland hardwood habitats, 24 to 50 square miles for females. Movements of 125 miles from a denning site have been documented.
Black bears are crepuscular, meaning they are active early in the morning and late in the evening. Daily timing of movements may be influenced by human activities. Bears in high human activity areas tend to be more nocturnal in their movements while dawn and dusk are the periods of primary movement among bears in low human activity areas.
Bears are omnivores; they will eat a variety of foods from fruits and grasses to meat. Grasses, forbs, berries, mast from oak, hickory, and beech trees, carrion, and insects are typical foods. Bears will also utilize agricultural crops, if available.
Research & Surveys
Best Places for Black Bears
Forested areas in:
- Northeast Ohio (Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Trumbull, & Tuscarawas counties)
- Southeast Ohio (Washington, Athens, Hocking, & Vinton counties)
Black bears are a state endangered species that occurs in forested habitats throughout the eastern half of Ohio. Black bear sightings in Ohio have been increasing since the Division of Wildlife began tracking sightings in 1993. In 2018, 191 sightings were reported in 45 counties. Seventy-three of those sightings were confirmed based on the presence of evidence such as photos or tracks. Sightings occur throughout the year but are most common in late May through early July.
The number of individual black bears present in the state each year is estimated based on the number and location of confirmed reports, but it is not known how many of these individuals remain present in the state year-round. Only four confirmed reports of females with cubs have been received over the past five years. Of 21 dead bears reported in Ohio since 2014, only 2 have been female. It is thought that the majority of bears seen in Ohio are young male bears dispersing from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, in the absence of a resident female male bears are not likely to remain in an area for an extended period of time, so it is expected that most of these male bears do not ultimately remain in Ohio.