Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Species Spotlight: Grizzly Bear

July 23, 2012, 10:44 am

Grizzly BearGrizzly bears are the largest land mammals in North America. Their sheer size makes them hard to miss. Males weigh a whopping 500 pounds on average and can even tip the scale at an astounding 900 pounds. Females weigh 200 to 450 pounds. They’re about 3.5 feet tall on all fours, but can be as tall as 8 feet when they stand on their hind legs! Their claws range from two to four inches in length, making their tracks giant and highly visible.

A subspecies of the brown bear, grizzly bears vary from blonde to black in color, though they are usually a medium to dark brown. Their long hairs often have a lighter, silver tip, giving the bears their “grizzled” appearance, hence the name. What makes grizzlies different than the black bear? Besides their color and overall size, they have a pronounced shoulder hump made of muscle to aid them in digging and forging for food.

They have a wide habitat range and can be found everywhere from dense forests to meadows and valleys. In North America, grizzly bears are a Western creature. In the United States grizzlies call Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington and Idaho home. They are found in the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Yukon. They live about 15 to 20 years in the wild and more than 30 years in captivity.

The life of a grizzly bear is mostly solitary. However, one of their more social moments 
(and an amazing wildlife spectacle) is during a rich salmon river run, where multiple bears gather to fish the rapid waters for the fatty salmon to prepare for hibernation. Grizzlies also feed on berries, roots, grasses, insects, rodents and sometimes caribou or moose. Consuming large amounts of food is crucial for the bears during hibernation. This nutrition provides an extra layer of fat to keep grizzlies warm in their den and help them subsist, as they don’t eat or drink during hibernation. Grizzlies hibernate between five and eight months. Mothers will den during this time and have one to three cubs (often twins), who will remain with their mother for two to four years.

Grizzlies used to roam the Great Plains of America with numbers near 50,000, but European settlement pushed them back to the dense forests and mountains. Only about 1,000 grizzlies exist in the United States today. In 1975 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service placed the grizzly bear on the threatened species list in the Lower 48. Fortunately, thanks to hard work of the parks, grizzlies in the Yellowstone area have made a major recovery since then. You’re most likely to see a grizzly in Katmai, Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Teton or Glacier National Parks. If you spot a grizzly, do not approach it. Female bears with cubs or bears defending a carcass are especially dangerous. Do not run or make abrupt moves. If possible, slowly back away when the bear is calm and be sure to report the sighting to a park ranger. Read more about bear safety and regulations in the parks.

Want to help the grizzly population? The National Wildlife Federation works to ensure humans and grizzly bears peacefully co-exist. You can adopt a grizzly or sign a petition to protect the bears from poisonous rock mines. Together we can all work to protect and preserve these majestic animals.

Fun Facts:
-Grizzlies have a better sense of smell than hound dogs! They can smell food from miles away.
-A grizzly can run up to 35 mph.
-During hibernation, a grizzly bear’s body temperature drops only a few degrees and their breathing slows a little.
-Grizzly cubs weigh only one pound when they’re born!

Image: A grizzly bear in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Source: USFWS