The most widespread bear species in North America, the black bear, is found almost everywhere in the USA and Canada. With numerous videos of black bear cubs trying to climb trees circulating online, you might wonder whether these bears are natural climbers.
All American black bears can climb trees. They can escalate vertical surfaces with incredible speed and agility, so trying to escape this predator vertically is never a good idea. Black bears climb trees for a variety of reasons, including foraging, escaping predators, pursuing prey, and playing. Asiatic black bears are another black bear species that can climb trees.
Can American Black Bears Climb Trees?
American black bears (Ursus americanus) can climb trees, and they do so very fast.
You can expect them to climb 100 feet in around 30 seconds. This is much faster than most humans can pull off and the reason why people should never climb a tree when trying to escape a bear encounter.
Black bears owe this agility to their smaller bodies and sheer strength.
Size-wise, black bears are smaller than grizzlies and only weigh 250 to 300 pounds on average. Males are generally larger and can weigh up to 600 pounds, but very few black bears are heavier than this.
Comparatively, grizzly bears weigh 700 to 800 pounds on average, with some reaching hefts of 1,700 pounds.
The lighter yet muscular bodies, strong front limbs, and curved claws make it a lot easier for black bears to climb vertically compared to grizzly bears.
How Fast Can Black Bears Climb?
There are no specific studies on how fast black bears can climb trees.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that they can go up about 100 feet in less than half a minute. That’s about three feet per second, which is a lot faster than the average human can pull off.
Sure, the fastest human climbers are faster than black bears. The fastest male climber reached the record speed of nine feet per second.
However, this record speed refers to climbing a vertical climbing wall fitted with boulders while wearing top-quality climbing equipment.
Unless you’ve got years of training and adequate equipment, it’s unlikely to see a human climbing a tree faster than a bear.
Even grizzly bears climb a tree faster than a human, and they aren’t as light or agile climbers as the black bears.
How High Can Black Bears Climb?
Again, there are no specific studies on how high black bears can climb. However, plenty of evidence suggests that they can climb as high as they want – at least, as long as the tree limbs are strong enough to support their weight.
In this video, for example, an adult black bear climbs all the way to the top of a 50-foot tree. Chances are it could have climbed further would the tree have been taller.
The main reason black bears – and bears in general – can climb to that height is because they can climb down a tree with the same agility.
Unlike other mammals, bears don’t climb down a tree head first. Instead, they walk down the tree with the rear legs in the lead.
This technique increases their balance and grip, making it easy to get back on the ground safely.
Why Do Black Bears Climb Trees?
Black bears climb trees for a variety of reasons, including foraging, playing, escaping predators, surveillance of the surroundings, or resting.
Like most bear species, black bears are opportunistic omnivores. However, they don’t necessarily hunt.
According to research, about 81% of a black bear’s diet consists of plants. About 63% of these foods are of arboreal origins, such as fruits and seeds.
Among the trees black bears feed on, we can mention black cherries, beeches, oaks, and fire cherries.
Black bears also find insects in trees, including beetles, ants, bees, and wasps. Honey is another source of nutrients black bears can find in trees. Moreover, these mammals also eat eggs and could feed on young birds.
They can also climb trees to pursue prey, including small mammals such as beavers, ground squirrels, bobcats, and even mice. It goes without saying that they could climb a tree to catch a human that they see as prey.
As apex predators, adult black bears aren’t usually prey. However, the cubs are much more vulnerable.
Young black bears often climb trees to escape predators such as coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears.
Grizzlies may also pursue smaller adult black bears. Because grizzlies are not as agile climbers, adult black bears may choose to escape vertically from this predator.
Young black bears are often spotted playing in trees. These activities are generally encouraged by their mother since climbing is an essential survival skill for both young and adult bears.
Even though adult black bears don’t have many predators, they still climb trees to survey their surroundings. They are on the lookout not only for predators, but they can also spot prey from this advantage point.
Some of the animals that black bears hunt include ungulates, squirrels, and other rodents.
Bears usually sleep curled up in dens, but that’s mostly the case in the hibernating months. For the rest of the year, they can sleep in dens but also in hollow trees or even on thicker tree branches.
Do Asiatic Black Bears Climb Trees?
Like the American black bears, Asiatic black bears can and will climb trees for all the reasons mentioned above.
Apparently, Asiatic black bears prefer climbing trees with higher energy values, with the three dominant species they prefer being the Mongolian oak, Jolcham oak, and the Japanese chestnut.
Black bears can and will climb trees for food, to survey their surroundings, escape predators, pursue prey, sleep, or play. They are agile climbers and can go as high as they want, as long as the branches are resistant enough.
For these reasons, it is not wise to climb a tree if you want to escape after a black bear encounter. Instead, you should employ strategies to avoid bears in the wild or scare them away if you do happen to come across one.