Black bears live throughout most of Ontario. They primarily inhabit forested areas where they are best able to find food, refuge and den sites.
Their entire life revolves around food. When they are not hibernating, bears spend most of their time looking for food. Bears have a very keen sense of smell. They can travel over 100 kilometers outside their natural home range to known areas of high food production, such as a great blueberry field or a stand of oak or beech trees. They log the location into their brain and will return year after year.
From the time they come out of hibernation until berry crops are available, bears live off their stored fat and the limited energy provided by fresh spring greens. They get most of their food energy by feeding on summer berry crops like blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. In the fall, they turn their attention to hazel nuts, mountain ash, acorns and beech nuts.
Though black bears will eat carrion, insects, fish, deer fawns and moose calves, the bulk of their diet is plant material. Their natural preference is to find lots of high energy food – like berry patches – that will help them fatten up fast. Their survival and ability to have and raise young depend on their ability to put on weight before going into winter hibernation.
The availability of their natural food varies from season to season and from year to year. When natural food sources are poor, black bears will travel long distances to seek out alternative sources of food.
Bears are smart, curious, powerful and potentially dangerous. And they don’t like surprises. If you are a hiker, cyclist, jogger, berry picker or you plan to spend some time in “bear country,” learn to be Bear Wise to avoid an encounter.
Avoid bear-human interactions
Alert bears to your presence so they can avoid you. Make noise, such as singing, whistling or talking while in areas with restricted visibility or with high background noise, such as near streams and waterfalls.
- travel in groups of two or more—people who travel alone are most vulnerable
- scan your surroundings and do not wear music headphones
- watch for signs of bear activity such as tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks or fresh bear droppings
- leash your dog, as uncontrolled, untrained dogs may actually lead a bear to you
- pay attention, especially if you are working, gardening or berry picking
- rise slowly if you are in a crouched position so that you don’t startle nearby bears
- avoid strong fragrances that may cause a bear to be curious
- put any food you are carrying in sealed containers in your pack
- carry a whistle or air horn
- learn how to use bear pepper spray and carry it somewhere that’s easy to access
- consider carrying a long-handled axe, if you are in remote areas or deep in the forest
- When camping, never cook, eat or store any food (including snacks), cooking equipment or toiletries in your tent.
Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.
Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is, provided you do not approach. The noise is meant to “scare” you off and acts as a warning signal.
- Slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight and wait for it to leave.
- If the bear does not leave, throw objects, wave your arms and make noise with a whistle or air horn.
- Prepare to use bear spray.
- If you are near a building or vehicle get inside as a precaution.
- Drop any food you may be carrying and slowly move away.
- If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone. Leave the area. The bear will come down when it feels safe.
- Run, climb a tree or swim.
- Kneel down.
- Make direct eye contact.
- Approach the bear to get a better look.
- Attempt to feed a bear.
Bear warning signs
Black bear attacks are extremely rare.
A threatened or predatory black bear will give off warning signs to let you know you are too close. A black bear standing on its hind legs is not a sign of aggressive behaviour. The bear is trying to get a better look at you or catch your scent.
A defensive bear
A bear that feels threatened will:
- salivate excessively and exhale loudly
- make huffing, moaning, clacking and popping sounds with its mouth, teeth and jaws
- lower its head with its ears drawn back while facing you
- charge forward, and/or swat the ground with its paws (known as a ‘bluff’ charge)
A predatory bear
The bear will approach silently, usually in rural or remote areas, and may continue to approach regardless of your attempts to deter them by yelling or throwing rocks. If the bear attacks:
- use bear spray
- fight back with everything you have
- do not play dead unless you are sure a mother bear is attacking in defence of her cubs
When to use self defence
If you have tried everything possible to get a bear to leave your property and you are afraid for your safety, you have the right to protect yourself and your property.
Killing a bear in self-defence must be an action of last resort.
Any action you take must be done:
- according to applicable laws (for example, discharging a firearm by-laws)
- in the most humane way possible