Black bears (or Ursus americanus) are large omnivores known for their brown-flecked dark fur, elongated and nonretractile claws, and may or may not have distinguishable white markings on the chest. They can weigh as much as 440 pounds! However, the average male weighs around 300-350 pounds and can get up to six feet long. The average female weighs 120-160 pounds, reaching a length of nearly five feet. Their life span is usually 15 to 18 years but have been known to live up to 23 years in both the wild and in captivity.
Bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat meat, but they largely forage on vegetation. Bears will eat everything from fruits (berries are their favorite) to insects and will less often resort to eating reptiles, birds, and small mammals ranging from beavers, young moose, small domestic livestock and young white-tailed deer. In the springtime bears will eat dead animals that perished in the winter and eat food that has been discarded by humans. Like vultures, they are nature’s picker-uppers but much cuter.
Bears have almost no predators; it is humans that pose the most danger to them, usually by hunting (in states where it is legal) and collisions with cars. Young cubs are also sometimes killed by, bobcats and coyotes. The historic bear population has been reduced due to deforestation. Black bears are now a species of highest conservation concern in Alabama, and it is illegal to hunt them at any time of year.
Unfortunately, the population of black bears in Mobile is seeing poor genetics due to not enough diversity. The Mobile River basin only has 86 bears, based on a population estimate from 2015and the number is stagnant, whereas northeastern Alabama has seen an increase in black bear births, with the population estimate from 2015 indicating nearly 40 bears and counting. According to researcher Hannah Leeper, the bear population is growing in northeastern Alabama, possibly due to the better quality of dens. She is currently tracking bears in northeastern Alabama, mostly in Dekalb and Cherokee counties. “Bears are historic here and native to this area,” states Leeper, and hopefully bears will continue to live in our state for generations to come.