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Wildlife Species Guide

Black Bear

Wildlife Species Guide | Furbearers Guide| Observations |Sightings Map
Description | Making a Report | Tracks |Future |Literature

black bearAlthough black bears were never common in Nebraska, historic records indicate that they occurred in eastern Nebraska and ranged westwards along the Niobrara and Loup Rivers. Their Nebraska range may have also extended along other large rivers and into the Pine Ridge area. The last killed specimen was collected near Valentine in 1907 and the species was considered extinct from Nebraska since the early 1900s.


A number of reports of black bear sightings in Nebraska have been made since the early 1900s, for instance one that may have wandered through Banner County in 1984, but none of these reports could be confirmed.
In the fall of 2000, an adult black bear was sighted near Harrisburg in Nebraska and the sighting was confirmed by a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Conservation Officer Scott Brandt and Biologist Gary Schlichtemeier. In May 2002, another confirmed observation was made and photos taken of a black bear with an eartag near Henry, Nebraska.

black bear reports


The following picture documents the recently confirmed sighting near Henry. This photo was taken by Bob Grier, a photographer with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Notice the pink eartag in the animals right ear.

black bear


Black bears vary in size and weight. Males (average 120 to 300 lbs.) are larger and heavier than females (average 80 to 150 lbs.). The fur is uniform in color (brown to black phases) except for a brown muzzle; occasionally a white blaze occurs on the chest. The eyes and ears are small; the tail is short.

Good black bear habitat is often composed of relatively inaccassible terrain, thick understory vegetation and abundant food. However, black bears are very adaptable to various habitat types and sometimes exist in close proximity to people. Primary food items for black bears are grasses and forbes in the spring, shrubs and fruits in the summer, and a mixture of hard and soft mast in the fall. They will also consume carrion, but are not active predators.
Black bears hibernate during the winter.

black bear


Reporting a black bear observation

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is interested in verifying black bear observations in Nebraska. Black bear presence in an area can be confirmed based on signs such as tracks, feces, and claw marks on trees. If you have evidence of a black bear (such as video, photo, tracks, feces, hair, etc.) please call your nearest NGPC office and we will investigate the observation. If you are not certain if the tracks you found are from a black bear, please consult the images shown below. Cover the tracks with buckets to prevent destruction and inform the NGPC. If you take photos of sign, please include a ruler or pen in the picture for size reference.



Front Track
Rear track

The images above show front and rear tracks of a black bear. Front tracks are 5" to 6 1/4" long and 3 3/4" to 5 1/2/"wide. Rear tracks are 6" to 7 3/4" long and 3 1/2" to 5 1/2" wide. If the heal of the front foot registers, it may add 3" to 4" to the track length. Both front and hind feet have five toes and long nails that are generally clearly visible in the track.



Additional sporadic sightings of black bears in Nebraska are probable. Animals observed in the state are likely transient, long-distant dispersals from Colorado or Wyoming.



Benedict, R.A., H.H. Genoways., and P.W. Freeman. 2000. Shifting distributional patterns of mammals in Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences. 26:55-84.

Jones, J.K. Jr.1964. Distribution and Taxonomy of Mammals of Nebraska. University of Kansas Publications. Museum of Natural History. 36:299-302.

Kolenovsky, G.B. and S.M. Strathearn 1987. Black Bear. In "Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America" Editors: Novak, M., Baker, J.A., Obbard, M.E., and B. Malloch. pp442-454.

Pelton, M.R. 1982. Black Bear. In "Wild Mammals of North America. Biology-Management-Economics. Editors: Chapman, J.A. and G.A. Feldhamer. The Johns Hoppkins University Press. Baltimore and London.

Rezendes, P. 1992. Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign. Camden House Publishing. Charlotte, Vermont.

Rogers, L.L. 1977. Movements and social relationships of black bears in northeastern Minnesota, St. Paul. 194pp.

Swenk, M.H. 1908. A preliminary review of the mammals of Nebraska, with synopses. Proc. Nebraska Academy of Sciences., 8(3):61-144.


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