University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife Directory

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Ursidae
Black Bear photo
Black bears (Ursus americanus) were used by early explorers and settlers in Illinois as a source of meat and hides. Adult males are called boars, adult females are called sows, and young bears are called cubs.Photo courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo taken by Mike Bender.

Did You Know?

Black bears were used by early explorers and settlers in Illinois as a source of meat and hides. Adult males are called boars, adult females are called sows, and young bears are called cubs.

Description and Identification

Black bears are very large omnivores (eat both plants and animals). They have a rounded appearance since they have short, thick legs, a compact body, and a short tail (approximately 4 inches long). The coat is often black or dark brown, but may have a reddish or cinnamon color. The head is large and rounded with rounded ears. The muzzle is elongated and is often tan in color. There may or may not be a small patch of white or light colored fur on the chest.

  • Average Length: 4 to 6 feet
  • Average Height: 2 to 3 feet at the shoulder when standing on all four paws; 4 to 6 feet when standing on the hind legs.
  • Average Weight: 250 to 350 pounds (adult male); 120 to 180 pounds (adult female)

Tracks

Black bear tracks are easy to distinguish from other animals, because the hind feet are larger than the front feet, and the tracks will be much larger than any other wildlife track found in Illinois. The tracks of the hind feet are approximately 3.5 to 4 inches wide and 7 inches long, while tracks from the front feet measure approximately 3 to 4 inches across and 4 inches long. Black bears have five toes on each foot, each with a curved, 1.25 inch, non-retractable claw.

Animals Often Mistaken for Black Bears

In Illinois, large dogs, such as black Labrador retrievers, would be the most likely animals to be misidentified as a black bear. Full-grown bears are substantially larger than dogs and have a more rounded appearance. Black bears also have very short tails that are not usually visible since bears keep their tails tucked close to their body. In contrast, most dog breeds have long tails. Additionally, dogs have slender legs and small paws compared to a bear.

Status in Illinois

Black bears were extirpated (eliminated) from Illinois before 1870. There are no resident populations of black bear in Illinois, but in 2009, a single black bear was removed from Bureau County.

On February 3, 2009 officers from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Illinois Conservation Police, along with the assistance of a wildlife expert from the Quad Cities, tranquilized a black bear that had been seen roaming Bureau County. The male black bear weighing approximately 200 pounds was located in the Neponset area. The animal was in a state of semi hibernation at the time. It was transported to a USDA licensed facility in southern Illinois that is permitted to possess bears. The origin of the bear is unknown and it is suspected to have been in human care prior to its release or escape. The IDNR Conservation Police first learned of this bear in June of 2008 when it was observed in the Sheffield area. In December 2008, the bear was observed and photographed in the Neponset area during a warm spell. Officers from the Illinois Conservation Police consulted with federal, state and county wildlife and law enforcement agencies to formulate a plan of response to the bear’s presence. After reviewing several options, officials decided it was best to attempt to take the bear alive and place it in an approved facility. Upon arrival at the facility, the bear was in good health and will receive proper food, shelter, and veterinarian care. An investigation is underway to determine the bear’s origin.

Report a Sighting

If you believe you have seen this animal, please report the sighting to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.