What Do Black Bears Eat? 20+ Foods They Feed On

Black Bear Population by State

Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: October 3, 2023

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Black bears are a relatively common sight throughout the woodlands and forests of North America. These mammals are often confused for their larger and more dangerous cousins, brown and grizzly bears, but they’re not nearly as aggressive or dangerous. Of course, they’re still wild animals that should be avoided. Black bears are interested in getting a good meal and satisfying their curiosity. Since they have such an inquisitive nature, what do black bears eat?

Discover the various foods these large, furry mammals prefer to eat in the wild along with how they manage to find their preferred meals. We’ll even explore the topic of whether they pose a serious danger to human beings!

What Foods Do Black Bears Eat?

What Do Black Bears Eat

Black bears eat grass, mammals, fish, and fruit.

Black bears eat grasses, berries and other fruit, insects, fish, mammals, and honeycomb. These omnivores consume a variety of foods when they live in the wild. Although bears are often thought of as massive predators, the majority of the black bear’s diet is plant-based. Upwards of 75% of their diet comes from eating various plants, and they fill in the rest of their diet with an array of different foods.

Among the black bear’s favorite foods are:

These choices show how the black bear’s diet runs the gamut and includes everything from berries to meat from stolen kills.

These meals are especially interesting when one considers that the black bear is an apex predator. These mammals are at the top of the food chain in most places due to their large size, powerful bite, and speed. Yet, they do not indiscriminately kill and eat like sharks or lions even though they have significant hunting prowess; they’re far more likely to forage than kill.

How Do Black Bears Find Food?

Black Bear Population by State

Black bears use their sense of smell to find their meals.

Like many other bears, black bears use their strong sense of smell to find food that is appealing to them. In fact, their willingness to follow their nose is what often leads them into contact with humans. They smell humans’ food stores or cooking in the open and pursue the potential meal.

Black bears are very good at finding plants that are suitable for their dietary needs, mostly by using their keen noses. Bears have decent vision, too. They can see well at night and can track movement with ease. Thus, they are great at hunting at nighttime.

Bears are good at finding their food and better at getting it. They can run at speeds of 25 mph or more if they are lean, fast enough to catch and consume many of their prey. They’re also good at using their claws to help dig into small spaces to get food, such as when they detect honey and want to grab the honeycomb.

Black bears are amazing climbers, and they can use their sharp claws to pursue prey or reach other food that is high in a tree. These bears can also swim well. They will gladly go into the water for a chance at having fish for dinner.

Although they’re not as large and swift as their cousins, black bears are very good at getting food.

What Do Baby Black Bears Eat?

Black Bear Population by State

Black bear cubs drink milk for four months before moving onto insects and fruits.

Baby black bears, called cubs, are born after 7 to 8 months of gestation (with delayed onset), often in the early months of the year. During the first months of their lives, black bear cubs are completely helpless and do not even open their eyes until a month after they’re born.

This is the time of year when they are most vulnerable, but they have very protective mothers. The cubs will nurse from their mother for the first four months of their lives. During that time, they will start slowly eating solid foods. Cubs begin by eating insects before moving on to fruits. After the first four months, though, they are weaned.

After 16-18 months, the cubs become independent and assume an adult’s diet, but they are not ready to take down large prey on their own by that time.

Are Black Bears Dangerous To People?

A sleuth, or group, of three American black bears (Ursus americanus), a mother bear and two of her cubs, sit in a rocky field.

Black bears attack people for reasons other than protecting their young; they are very dangerous.

Black bears can be dangerous to human beings, capable of inflicting injuries and causing deaths. They are, after all, wild animals that have the tools needed to be active and successful predators. However, black bear attacks are quite rare, and they are not likely to be fatal.

According to research, roughly 63 people died in black bear attacks from the year 1909 to 2009, with the majority of the fatalities happening in Canada. The circumstances for each of these attacks vary, and a common piece of misinformation states that the attacks were mostly mothers protecting their cubs.

That is not the case; most of these fatal bear attacks were predation; they killed the humans for meat. Unarmed humans have no protection against these bears, even sub-adult black bears. Several of the attacks probably occurred because the bear was drawn to their location by the smell of food.

The best way to avoid fatalities is to learn how to recognize the black bears’ activity, avoid the bears in the wild, and use proper food storage practices when camping. They have the power to be incredibly dangerous creatures.

What Predators Eat Black Bears?

Strongest animal bite – Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears will attack black bears for food if they are hungry.

Black bears are often apex predators in the areas they live. That means few, if any creatures, can kill them in the wild. However, some other animals are more than capable of killing a black bear because of their size or intelligence.

Black bear predators include:

In the case of the fox and eagle, they can only attack and kill cubs. Humans, mountain lions, wolves, and other bears pose the greatest threat to these animals, capable of killing adults. Nevertheless, these mammals are rarely killed by other predators.

Black bears are omnivores that mostly eat plants but remain as deadly apex predators in the wild. Although they can spend large periods of their lives inactive in hibernation, they still find time to consume a lot of food.

Although they are not as dangerous as the grizzly bear, they are still formidable predators that can and have killed humans. People should respect these animals’ power and keep their distance.  

Summary Of The 20+ Foods That Black Bears Eat

4White-tailed Deer
18Succulent plants
20Livestock Feed
25Processed human foods

Do Black Bears Eat Squirrels?

California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) in Central Park, Fremont

A black bear will eat a ground


if the opportunity presents itself, but would be challenged to catch it, as squirrels are good at dodging their advances.

You may have noticed that certain small animals like rodents didn’t make our list. Besides squirrels, rabbits, mice, and rats are other small mammals that a black bear could encounter in the wild. But do they make up a large part of the black bear’s overall diet? The answer is no. Protein only makes up about 10% of its overall annual diet, and it gets most of its protein from ants, grubs, caterpillars, and insect larvae. Black bears will go for salmon when they are spawning and will target newborn deer fawns if they smell one in the vicinity, as they often lie in the underbrush while their mothers leave them in search of food. Once a fawn is a bit older, it can outrun a black bear fairly easily.

Black bears are not very agile animals, so certain animals are not as appealing to them. While a black bear will consume any animal that might easily present itself, quick and agile animals like squirrels (ground squirrels more likely), mice, and rabbits can dodge the bear’s advances and lunges. So these animals are not the black bear’s first choice.

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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