Despite apparent differences in size and colour, black bears and grizzly bears are often difficult to tell apart. Why is this important? Every year, black bear hunters kill several grizzly bears by mistake, which can have dire consequences for local grizzly bear populations.
It is also extremely important to know which species is which when you can encounter a bear in your community or in the backcountry.
Black bears can be black, blue-black, dark brown, brown, cinnamon and even white. Grizzlies, likewise, may range in colour, from black to blond. Although grizzly bears are, on average, significantly larger than black bears, size is not a good indicator of which species is which. Male black bears in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park, for instance, can weigh up to 800 pounds in the fall, and female grizzly bears on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes can weigh as little as 250 pounds in the spring.
The best indicators are the size of the shoulders, the profile of the face and the length of the claws. The grizzly bear has a pronounced shoulder hump, which the black bear lacks. It also has a concave or “dished” facial profile, smaller ears and much larger claws than the black bear. Black bears have a flatter, “Roman-nose” profile, larger ears, no visible shoulder hump and smaller claws.
For more information about the world’s eight bear species, including black bears and grizzly bears, visit the website of the International Association for Bear Research & Management.