American Black Bears
Black bears are a very intelligent curious bear. They are smaller than Grizzly and Polar bears. They live mostly in forest where there is a good supply of vegetation, trees, and shrubs. They can also be found in the swampland of the southeastern United States and the scrub lands of the southwest. It is not uncommon to see a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, or in the state of Florida.
What do they look like?
Black bears have a straight line from the snout to the head with longer pointed ears than a grizzly bear. Grizzly bears have large humps on their shoulders and short rounded ears. Their snouts are square and raise above their foreheads.
Height: 2.5 - 3.5 to the shoulder. They are about 4-5 feet tall when standing on their hind legs.
An adult male can be between 150-600 pounds. Females with cubs can weigh 90-300 pounds.
In the eastern part of North America, most black bears are black. In parts of the western states, there are some black bears that are a brownish color. If you see a brownish bear in the wild, be sure to look at the shape of its head and body to determine whether it is a grizzly or a black bear.
What do Black bears eat?
Black bears eat mostly vegetation, weeds, wild flowers, nuts, berries, wild oats, insect larvae, bees and other insects. They sometimes will catch a fawn or other small animal to eat. Black bears will also go to campgrounds and garbage dumps to eat what humans through away when their natural food in the wild is hard to find. In some areas where bears are common, specially designed garbage containers have been made to help keep bears out.
Fun facts about Black bears:
1. Black bear mothers usually give birth to 2 or three cubs while in their den
2. Have an excellent sense of smell
3. Black bears are good tree climbers
4. They can run up to 35 miles per hour
5. Black bears can live to 25 years in the wild
About Bill Lea- Nature Photographer and Bear Expert
Photographing the wonder of wildlife, wildflowers, landscapes, and a variety of other natural subjects from the Canadian Rockies to the Florida Everglades has long been a passion for Bill Lea. However, he may be best known for his portrayal of black bears, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Florida Everglades. Photographing black bears for more two decades has provided Bill with extraordinary opportunities to learn about bears. For nearly 20 years Bill has been presenting educational programs throughout western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee in an effort to dispel the many myths and un-truths about bears. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, National Public Radio, Midwest Outdoors, Animal Planet, local radio stations, news stations, and a variety of other programs.
Bill lived among bears for two to three months per year for nearly a decade. He currently posts a bear photo and educational message every day on his Facebook Page:
The enjoyment of sharing the wonder of black bears and nature with others is second only to Bill’s desire for promoting a respect for all wildlife and the natural world.
Interview with Wildlife Photographer Bill Lea
Who or what inspired you to become a wildlife photographer? From the time I was a child, I have loved animals. Photographing wildlife provided me with the opportunity to spend time with those that I love.
Can you share your experience seeing a black bear for the first time? This may sound terrible, but I don’t even remember. I am sure it was in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but at that time I just had no idea how incredible black bears really are.
How would you describe the spirit or true nature of a black bear? Black bears are unbelievably shy and reclusive – they are mostly afraid of everything. They are such strong and powerful animals but yet there is this extremely gentle and fearful aspect of black bears most people never have the opportunity to witness for themselves.
What is your goal for photographing black bears in the wild? My goal is to capture the individual personality of every bear I encounter and then share those images with everyone possible so they can come to better understand black bears. Every bear has his or her own distinct personality and thus every bear has value. Most people never stop to think that bears share many of the same emotions we people experience – joy, love, fear, sadness, and more. I want to capture those emotions in my images so people can see for themselves how much bears and people are alike. Once people begin to understand bears the more likely they are to respect and care about them.
How much time do you spend in a given day, waiting for the right moment to capture the photo you set out to get? When I come across a bear and especially a mother bear and cubs I will remain with them until there is no more light of day remaining. Once they know I am not going to hurt them they pretty much ignore me and go about their daily routine. I just wait for those moments when their personality and/or emotions show in some look or behavior and try to capture that image in the camera. I often spend hours just watching them sleep, but something of interest almost always happens sooner or later. However, having a clear view or the right light for a captivating image – well that is another story. Of course, many days I go out and find no bears at all. Photographing bears takes a lot of patience but the rewards are more than worth it.
What would a black bear do if it saw a human walking into its territory? Probably run! The only thing you ever have to even think about is that you never want to be suddenly upon a bear without the bear knowing it. In other words you never want to startle a bear. They are so afraid of everything that if you suddenly startle a bear that bear has to make a split-second decision of “fight” or “flight.” When bears are given enough room they will almost always take the “flight” option. Whenever I encounter a bear, I always talk to them in a soft and calm voice. Like a dog, a bear can tell so much about your intentions by your tone of voice. A calm voice has a soothing effect upon bears and it can go a long way in calming their fear of you.
What advice can you give to an amateur photographer who goes into the field to photograph a black bear? I believe a photographer needs to understand bears before they will ever successfully photograph them in the wild. The best way to understand them is to take the time to learn the truth about them. Then when ready to actually photograph a bear, go with somebody who knows bears. When somebody spends time with bears they will come to truly understand them.
Have you ever had a close call while photographing black bears? No, I have never had a close call with a black bear. Have I ever misjudged a bear’s comfort zone – sure, that has happened. But bears are communicators. If they are not comfortable with your presence they will either leave or if you have incurred just a minor infraction by being a little too close, they will give you “the look” – you know the look you received from your mother when she was silently letting you know you did something wrong – head slightly down and eyes looking directly at you. If you do not respond to “The Look” then you may receive a bluff charge. That involves a couple of quick steps forward, slapping the ground, and blowing air through the nostrils. When this happens – it does not mean the bear is aggressive – no, it just means the bear is communicating with you. If the bear had been aggressive, there would have been no “bluff” to the charge. People often say, “Bears are wild and unpredictable,” but that is not true. Bears are very predictable, it is just that most people do not know bears well enough to read their body language and eyes. I often tell people, “If you want unpredictability, look at the human species. If you don’t believe that, just watch the evening news on any given day.”
How can people co-exist with black bears? In my presentations, I always say, “Bears can live with people – but people are often unwilling to live with bears.” The greatest threat to bears is the intolerant attitudes of some human beings. The only way that will ever change is if people come to understand bears. There are so many myths, misconceptions, and out-right lies about bears that many people have developed an unrealistic fear of bears. Their concept about bears and bear behavior has been so misguided over the years (often intentionally) that they have almost no idea of what a bear is really like. People must understand bears before they will ever change their behavior towards bears. That is where my photography and knowledge about bears can play a role. I want people to see what bears are REALLY like – I want them to see bears through my lens and my experiences with bears. That is why I do interviews like this one.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? Yes, I would like to let all of your readers know what bears are really like by sharing my photos and experiences with bears. And I do that with a bear photo and an educational message every day on my Facebook Page (www.Facebook.com/BillLeaPhotography). Only when we learn will we understand and only when we understand will we ever care. As I say at the bottom of every e-mail message I send - “All life has value and all bears deserve the chance to value life.” I suggest taking the time to learn about the true nature of one of the most amazing animals of North America – the black bear. You will not be disappointed!
To learn more about black bears, go to Bill Lea's facebook page at www.Facebook.com/BillLeaPhotography