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Bears in Arizona (Diet, Lifestyle, Habitat, more)

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black bears

Bears are some of the most iconic creatures in the animal kingdom. Their varying species,  large size and impressive strength make them both important and captivating animals. In Arizona, black bears are the only wild bear species that call these desert lands home as they can adapt to unique climate conditions. Although bears have been living in Arizona for centuries, it is increasingly rare to see one of these majestic animals roaming the state’s forests and mountain ranges. 

Bears in Arizona

Are there Bears in Arizona?

Although one might assume there are no bears in Arizona, the answer to this question is a surprising yes!  Arizona does have both black and brown bears. It’s interesting to note that historically there were grizzly bears living in the Grand Canyon area until about twenty years after the turn of the twentieth century. Nowadays, healthy bear populations can be found in the San Francisco Peaks, White Mountains, and other high-altitude regions of Arizona.

Are there Bears in Northern Arizona?

The answer to whether there are bears in northern Arizona is an interesting one: it depends. Though black bears are the only species of bear found in the state, their range does not extend beyond south-central Arizona. However, if you drive up to the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, you may see evidence of bears! Though no actual bear sightings have been confirmed along the Rim, the area has reported sightings of bear droppings and paw prints. This leads some experts to conclude that at least some black bears roam up into these higher elevations to take advantage of food sources like acorns and other vegetation. 

Are there Black Bears in Arizona?

It might come as a surprise to some that black bears are actually residents of Arizona!  The American Black Bear is the most commonly seen bear in North America, and can now be found in parts of the Grand Canyon State. While the exact population numbers of these majestic creatures in Arizona remain unknown, recent studies suggest their population is between 25 and 50 individuals, with further ones likely having moved in from nearby states such as New Mexico. 

Habitat

Bears in Arizona are surprisingly diverse – they can be found in habitats ranging from cave dwellings to forests and mountain ranges. Depending on the time of year and availability of food, their territories can span hundreds of miles in different directions. They tend to be most active at night but will come out during daytime hours as well. During winter months bears hibernate and usually find dens in high-elevation areas up to 9,000 feet above sea level with plenty of snow cover. As temperatures start to rise in the spring season,  bears may descend to lower elevations closer to human habitation looking for new sources of food.

Diet

They are opportunistic feeders and eat fruits, nuts, insects, honey and anything else that will provide them with sustenance. In the summer months, they prefer to consume plant foods such as berries or other sweet material whilst during the winter months they tend to dine on carrion and small prey such as rodents or deer.

bear in open

Colour

The colour of bears in Arizona may surprise you. While black bears are found in the state, most bears seen in Arizona have a cinnamon-brown-rusty hue. Even though these bears are of the same species as black bears, their coats are different due to differences in climate. Arizona’s warm air and sunny days cause the fur of these bears to fade from black or dark brown to lighter tones while they bask in the heat. This phenomenon is not only true for Arizona but it can also be seen around the world when comparing black bear populations located near tropical climates versus those that live far north. 

Size, Lifespan and Weight 

The average black bear will weigh between 150 to 600 pounds, or even more in some cases. In terms of length, an adult black bear can have a total standing size of 3 to 7 feet. Furthermore, black bears are long-lived species with a lifespan of approximately 15 – 25 years when living in the wild, and up to 30 years when in captivity. 

Predators

In Arizona, bears face a variety of predators, including wolves, cougars, and bobcats. Though black bears have grown in population since the 20th-century reintroduction of wolves and other apex predators to the area, they can still be vulnerable to predation by one or more of these species in areas where there is low abundance and spatial overlap with competitors or predators.

Coyotes also play a role in reducing bear populations and can occasionally kill cubs – but since coyotes are smaller than adult bears, they’ll usually retreat if challenged. When female black bears have cubs at their sides they become especially susceptible to predation. In these cases mother bears will lead predators away from the cubs to ensure their safety – however, this leads to increased risk for the mother bear herself.

bear in wild

Reproduction

Black bears are equipped with sophisticated reproductive strategies that have allowed the species to thrive, even in the face of intense competition for resources. Their mating period starts in mid-May, although different populations have slight variations in timing. During this time, female bears will mate with multiple males and store sperm from each mating until wintertime when she enters into a state of delayed implantation.

This means that although her body can hold onto multiple sets of sperm at once, it won’t begin the process of producing cubs until later on in the year. A few months after entering hibernation, she’ll give birth to litters averaging two cubs (though litters can range between one and four). The mother bear will raise these cubs on her own over the winter before they venture out on their own come springtime.

Are there grizzly bears in Arizona?

In the state of Arizona, grizzly bears are not typically spotted. Although they were at one point part of Arizona’s ecosystem, like many states in the Southwest region, all known wild populations were extirpated in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a result of hunting and expeditions. Although sightings have occurred on occasion since then, with DNA evidence found to verify an individual last seen in 2006, there has not been any evidence to suggest a reproducing population.

Nevertheless, some speculate that individual animals still exist due to both anecdotal sightings and the location of suitable habitats in the wilderness areas of Northern Arizona. 

Are there bears in Flagstaff Arizona?

Flagstaff, Arizona is home to a wide array of wildlife, including squirrels, elk, coyotes and more. When it comes to bears, however, things are a bit less certain. While there have been reports of sightings in the nearby Coconino National Forest over the years, they do not appear to be common or regular occurrences.

As this area is quite far from the main population centres of the state, it is likely that black bear sightings are still relatively rare. Whether or not bears exist today in Flagstaff is a matter of debate, as evidence from both sides exists. It is possible that any potential bear population may continue its migration into more remote areas for sustenance and habitat needs.

Reference:

https://www.mygrandcanyonpark.com/things-to-do/wildlife/bears-grand-canyon/

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tonto/news-events/?cid=STELPRDB5371466

https://www.redrocknews.com/2019/06/27/be-aware-of-black-bears-while-hiking-sedona-area-trails/

https://petpedia.co/bear-attack-statistics/

Author Profile
Jeevan Kodiyan
Zoologist | Wildlife Conservation at Animals Research

An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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