Recognizing Bear Signs

Do not attempt to approach, feed, or harass wildlife.

      Black bears (Ursus americanus) are the only wild species of bear in the eastern United States.
      Familiarize yourself with black bear signs, and what to do if you come across a bear in the wild.
      Be alert as you hike and collect data.

Black Bear Signs


Credit: DJ McNeil
Credit: M. Colter Chitwood
Credit: Cat Sun

Bear: Black body with brown/tan muzzle. Brown/cinnamon phases uncommon in NY. Small round ears. Occassionaly a white patch/"blaze" on chest. Adults are 3-6' from nose to tail; short tail (3-5"). 100-500 lbs,

Other Animals:Coyotes, wolves, and dogs have longer tails and pointed ears; not easily confused.


Trackl1 Front foot.
Credit: M. Colter Chitwood
Track2Front foot.
Credit: Cat Sun
Track3Hind foot.
Credit Matt Merchant

Where: Trails, in soft soil, mud, or sand.

Bear: Broad footprints, about 4-7" long, with 5 toes and sometimes claw marks. Hind tracks are triangular.

Other Animals: Human tracks are oblong/oval.


Credit: Renae Poole
Credit: Matt Merchant
Scat from a corn diet.
Credit: M. Colter Chitwood

Where: Anywhere, but often on trails, sides of trails, at tree/plant bases.

Bear: Dark brown but varies by diet. ~1-2" diameter; usually tubular and sometimes coiled; may include grasses, seeds, animal hair, shells; if diet was mainly berries, may be soft and cowpie like, especially if old or disintegrated

Other Animals: Deer scat may be similar in overall size but is usually of clumped, smaller pellets; dog scat may be similar in shape but smaller in size.


Credit: Cat Sun
Credit: Linda Jo Hunter
Credit: Cat Sun

Where: On ground, tree trunks, barbed wired.

Bear: Approx. 1-4" long; guard hairs are all black; underfur may be brown. Sun exposure may lighten hair.

Other Animals: Raccoon, oppossum, and deer hair have +1 color (white, cream, tan) on a strand. Black hair from skunk is fine, usually longer than 5".

What to do if you see a black bear:

(adapted from the book, "Living With Bears" by Linda Masterson and the Be Bear Aware Program)

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Do not run.
  3. Avoid eye contact with the bear.
  4. Facing the bear, back away slowly.
  5. If the bear approaches, make noise - scream, yell, blow your whistle.
  6. Do not leave food out in the open.
  7. Consider carrying bear spray and make sure you know how use it properly.

Check out these other Resources and Guides (takes you away from NYeBear)