Black Bear Damage Identification

Damage to Structures

Black bears can damage homes and vehicles when searching for food. Black bears also scavenge in garbage cans, break in and demolish the interiors of cabins, damage bird feeders, and raid campsites and food caches. 

Damage to Livestock and Pets

Few black bears kill livestock but the behavior, once developed, usually persists. The severity of predation by black bears usually makes solving the problem urgent for those who suffer damage. If bears are suspected, look for deep tooth marks (about ½-inch in diameter) on the neck directly behind the ears on the carcass. On large animals, look for large marks from claws (½ inch between individual marks) on the shoulders and sides. After an animal is killed, a black bear typically will open the body cavity and remove the internal organs. The liver and other vital organs are eaten first, followed by the hindquarters. Udders of lactating females are consumed.  

Predation by bears must be distinguished from attacks by coyotes or dogs. Coyotes typically attack the throat of their prey. Dogs chase their prey, often slashing the hind legs and mutilating the animal. Tooth marks on the back of the neck usually are not found on kills made by coyotes and dogs. Claw marks are less prominent on kills by coyotes or dogs, if visible at all.  

Livestock behave differently when attacked by bears. Sheep tend to bunch when they are approached, and three or more often will be killed in a small area. Cattle tend to scatter when a bear approaches usually resulting in the death of a single animal. Hogs evade bears in the open, and are more often killed when they are confined. Horses rarely are killed by bears, but they do get clawed on the sides. 

When a bear makes a kill, it usually returns to the site at dusk. Bears prefer to feed alone. If an animal is killed in the open, the bear may drag it into the woods or brush and cover the remains with leaves, grass, soil, and forest debris. The bear periodically will return to the cache to feed on the decomposing carcass. 

Black bears destroy beehives. Damage to beehives includes broken and scattered combs and hives, with claw and tooth marks. Hair, tracks, scat, and other sign may be found in the immediate area. A bear usually will use the same path to return every night until all of the brood, comb, and honey are eaten. 

Damage to Landscapes

Field crops such as corn and oats occasionally are damaged by black bears. Large, localized areas of broken, smashed stalks show where bears have fed in cornfields. Bears eat the entire cob, whereas raccoons strip the ears from the stalks and chew the kernels from the ears. Black bears prefer corn in the milk stage.  

Bears can cause extensive damage to trees, especially in second-growth forests, by feeding on the inner bark or clawing the bark to leave territorial markings. Black bears damage orchards by breaking trees and branches in attempts to reach fruit. They often return to an orchard nightly. Due to repeated damage to orchards, and trees with broken limbs, losses often are economically significant. 

Health and Safety Concerns

Bears suffer from a variety of internal and external parasites. Zoonotic diseases include the worm responsible for trichinellosis and the protozoan that causes toxoplasmosis. Surveys have revealed that a small percentage of bears contract tularemia, brucellosis, and leptospirosis. Few bears have tested positive for rabies.