How to Identify Black and Grizzly Bears

black bear (top) and grizzly bear (bottom) source:nps.govThe highlight of many park vacations is often a wildlife sighting. Here's a guide for identifying the type of bear you've spotted.


Grizzly Bear

Black Bear




Grizzly Bears vary from blonde to black in
color. They are typically medium to dark
brown. Their long guard hairs often have a
lighter tip, giving the bears their ‘grizzled’
Black bears actually vary in color from black
to brown, cinnamon, or blonde, and have a
distinctive tan snout.


Males weigh 500 pounds on average (225
kg) and can weigh up to 900 pounds. Sows
average 375 pounds.
Males weigh between 210-315 pounds
(95-143 kg), sows between 135-160 lbs
(61-73 kg).


3.5 feet (1 m) 3 feet (0.9 m)

Body Shape

The grizzly has a distinctive shoulder hump
that is actually muscle mass.
Black bears lack the grizzly’s hump and
their rumps are higher than front shoulders.


Grizzlies have a concave profile with a depression
between the eyes and the end of the snout. Ears are round and proportionately
Black bears have a straight facial profile
with a relatively long muzzle. Their ears are long, pointed and prominent.


Grizzly claws are long (between 2 and 4 inches)
and formidable. They are often clearly visible in the tracks.
Black bear claws are less than two inches
long, usually dark colored, sharp, curved,
and good for climbing.

Life Expectancy

15–20 years in the wild 15–20 years in the wild


• Usually more aggressive than black bears.
Females will aggressively protect cubs.
• Day beds in dense vegetation are used to
rest and escape the summer’s heat.
• Mostly active during dusk and dawn, although
can be active any time of day.
• Strength is exceptional. They routinely roll
huge rocks and logs looking for food.
• Powerful digging ability allows them to
feed on roots, bulbs, and rodents and dig
dens on steep mountain slopes.
• Usually less aggressive than grizzly bears.
• Often den in open spaces under tree roots
and rocks at low to middle elevations.
• Active mainly during dawn to dusk, but
may be active any time of day or night.
• Excellent tree climbing ability is used to
escape predators and other bears. Threatened
mothers send cubs climbing to feed
on nuts and fruit in trees.
• Cubs weigh about one-half pound at birth
and stay with their mother up to 1.5 years.


In the United States grizzlies call Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington and Idaho home. They are found in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon. American black bears live in many parts of the United States and throughout much of North America, including northern Canada and Alaska south into Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.