Facts about Washington’s Black Bears


Food and Feeding Behavior

  • Black bears are omnivores. They eat both plants and animals; however, their diet consists mostly of vegetation.
  • In the spring, black bear diets consist mostly of herbaceous plants, from emerging grasses and sedges to horsetail and various flowering plants.
  • In summer, bears typically add ants, bees, grubs, and a host of later emerging plants to their diets.
  • During late summer and fall, bears typically shift their diets toward tree fruits, berries, and nuts, but they still may consume a variety of plants.
  • Fall is a critical season for black bears and they commonly acquire most of their annual fat accumulation at this time. Bears may forage up to 20 hours a day during fall, increasing their body weight by 35 percent in preparation for winter.
  • Typically, a small proportion of the black bear’s annual diet is made up of animal matter, including insects, mice, voles, ground squirrels, fawns and elk calves, eggs, carrion (animal carcasses), and fish, but their availability varies and is often unpredictable. An occasional bear may take livestock.
  • Black bears have adequate senses of sight and hearing, but their keen sense of smell and innate curiosity make them skilled scavengers. They consume carrion when they can find it, and are notorious for taking advantage of human irresponsibility with food, garbage, and bird-feeder management. Bears will eat anything that smells appealing and will help them prepare for their long winter sleep.
  • Black bears move in response to the seasonal availability of food, roaming constantly throughout their home range.

Do’s and Don’ts in Bear Country

To avoid encounters with black bears while hiking or camping:

  1. Keep a clean camp. Put garbage in wildlife-resistant trash containers.
  2. Store food in double plastic bags and, when possible, place the bags in your vehicle’s trunk or in wildlife-resistant food lockers. Double-wrapped food may also be placed in a backpack or other container and hang it from a tree branch at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk. Never store food in your tent.
  3. When camping, sleep at least 100 yards from your cooking area and food storage site.
  4. Hike in small groups and make your presence known by singing or talking.
  5. Keep small children close and on trails.

If you come in close contact with a bear:

  1. Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge. Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.
  2. Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room.
  3. If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling.
  4. If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to cougar and bear sightings when there is a threat to public safety or property. If it is an emergency, dial 911.

If you encounter a cougar or black bear problem, and it is not an emergency, contact the nearest regional Department of Fish and Wildlife office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. In King County, the number to call is (425)775-1311.

If you need to report a non-emergency problem when Department of Fish and Wildlife offices are closed, contact the Washington State Patrol or nearest law enforcement agency.


For further information visit the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

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