Black Bear or Grizzly Bear?

There are two kinds of bears in the Rocky Mountains – a Black bear and a Grizzly bear.  Here are some useful tips to help you identify bears easier.  

In the Rocky Mountains, black bears are more common than their larger cousins, Grizzly bears.  Anytime you are in the Rocky Mountains there are certain things you should do to be safe in bear country.  Both Black bears and Grizzly bears are two of the common mammals of the Rocky Mountains.

There are about 1,000 Grizzly bears currently living in the continental US, mostly in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.  Some may also be located in Washington.  Outside of the lower 48 states, Grizzly bears can be found in Alaska and Canada.

On the other hand there are nearly 600,000 Black bears living in North America.  About 300,000 of those live in 40 states in the USA, including Alaska.  Black bears live from Alaska all the way down to Mexico.

The color of the bear does not always tell you what kind of bear it is.

black bear or grizzly bear

This is a black bear – there is no hump on shoulders and the face profile is flat.

What does a Black bear look like?

Color – they can be black, brown, cinnamon. or blond and are generally a uniform color throughout their entire body.

Height – they are usually 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder.

Length – they can be 4-7 feet long from their nose to the tip of their tail.

Weight – males weigh on average 150-300 pounds and females are much smaller.

How to tell if it is a black bear:

  1. There is no shoulder hump.
  2. It has a straight or flat facial profile.  From the tip of its nose to the top of its head appears to be more of a straight line.
  3. It has taller ears than a grizzly bear.
  4. It has smaller claws (only 1 1/2 inches long).
  5. Usually it is smaller in size than a grizzly.
grizzly bear or black bear

These are grizzly bears – notice the hump on shoulders and the concave face.

What does a Grizzly bear look like?

Color – light brown, cinnamon, brown, or even black.  Usually a dark brown.

Height – they average 3-3 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder.

Length – they are about 6-7 feet long from their nose to the tip of their tail.

Weight – males weigh on average 300-850 pounds!  Females are smaller, weighing 250-450 pounds.

How to tell it is a grizzly bear

  1. They have a hump on their shoulders.
  2. It has a concave face, which means that from the tip of its nose its face goes in a little and then comes back out and up to the top of its head.
  3. It has shorter ears than a black bear.
  4. It has much larger claws (2 to 4 inches) than a black bear.
  5. It is big!  Grizzly bears are usually much bigger, both in weight and height, than a black bear.  But, a big male black bear could be bigger than a female grizzly bear.

What Should You Look For to Tell if it is a Black Bear or Grizzly Bear?

  1. Is there a hump on their shoulders?
  2. What does the shape of its face look like?
  3. Can you see how big the ears are?
  4. How big is it?
  5. What color is it?