As Canadians we’re so lucky to be surrounded by a diverse array of wildlife all across the country. One of our favourite animals to view in the wild are bears and we know our customers love them too because our tours that include bear-watching expeditions are always extremely popular. But how much do you really know about the three species of bears in Canada? Read on to find out more!
Black bears are the most common type of bear in Canada, inhabiting the forested areas of every province and territory in Canada except Prince Edward Island. Despite their name, they come in more colours than any other North American mammal, including black, brown, cinnamon, blonde, and even white (the famous Kermode or ‘spirit bear’ is in fact a sub-species of black bear). Black bears are typically 4 to 7 feet long, 2 to 3 feet high at the shoulders, and weigh about 300-500 pounds at maturity.
Black bears are Omnivores and will eat almost anything. Approximately 80% of their diet is vegetarian and includes grasses, plants, berries, fruits, and nuts. The other 20% is made up of animal proteins like insects, fish, and carrion.
Black bears hibernate in the winter from about Oct/Nov to April, not because of the cold but because of a lack of food during the colder months. Bears do not go into complete hibernation the way some other animals do. Their body temperature drops by only a few degrees and their respiration rate stays almost normal. A black bear still burns about 4,000 calories a day while in hibernation – which is why bears need to consume so many extra calories in the summer and early fall before they go into hibernation. Females give birth to their cubs during their hibernation
Black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare as they are naturally wary of humans and naturally peaceful creatures so will typically do everything in their power to avoid us.
Grizzly bears in Canada are found in British Columbia, the Rocky Mountains of western Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, southwestern Nunavut, and northern Manitoba. Unlike black bears, which have largely adapted to humans, grizzlies prefer remote areas far from humans. They are typically larger than black bears and weigh approximately 700-1100 pounds at maturity. Grizzlies range in colour from black to brown, blonde, white and many shades in between. The tips of their fur are often lighter in colour giving them a grizzled look and their name. A grizzly can be distinguished from a black bear by its size, the hump on its shoulder, a more dish shaped face and by longer claws.
Grizzly bears are omnivorous. Approximately 60% to 85% of their diet is vegetarian and includes grasses, roots, plants, berries, and fruit. The other 15% to 40% of its diet is animal protein like insects, fish, rodents, and the calves of ungulates like deer, elk, moose, and caribou.
Like black bears, grizzly bears hibernate and give birth to their cubs during the winter months. A female Grizzly does not have her first litter until she is five to seven years old, and she breeds at three- to four-year intervals. Female Grizzlies often bear no more than four or five litters in a lifetime.
Grizzly bears will usually go out of their way to avoid humans, but if surprised at close range, a grizzly can ferociously defend itself, its young, or its food.
Polar bears are the largest bear in the world and the Arctic’s top predator. At least two thirds of the world’s polar bears live in Canada’s arctic. Their range extends from James Bay to northern Ellesmere Island, and from Labrador to the Alaskan border. The polar bear’s Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means ‘sea bear’ due to the fact that it spends much of its life near the ocean, specifically on the sea ice.
Scientists believe polar bears evolved from a common ancestor of the grizzly bear between 350,000 to 6 million years ago and as they gradually moved north they became more adapted to life in the arctic. Thick fur and fat keeps them insulated against the cold, small ears and tails limit heat loss, large paws allow them to walk on the ice, and white colouring helps them camouflage. Male polar bears can weigh up to 1700 lbs and females up to 900 lbs. Males grow up to 10 feet long, females up to 8 feet long.
The majority of their diet is made up of ringed and bearded seals, but they also occasionally feed on whale carcasses, geese, small mammals, bird eggs, and vegetation. Beluga whales or narwhals that become trapped in small openings in the sea ice can also be an easy meal for a bear.
Unlike black bears and grizzly bears, polar bears do not hibernate in the winter. During the fall, female polar bears will dig a den in the snow where she will birth and care for her cubs for the first few months of their life. During winter blizzards, polar bears will sometimes dig beds in the snow and allow the snow to pile up on top of them as an insulating layer. They can stay in these snow beds for several days until the storm passes.
Polar bears are the most aggressive of all the bear species. Unlike black and grizzly bears, who are mainly vegetarians, polar bears are carnivores and could see humans as a potential food source. Travelling in polar bear country means taking extra precautions to avoid encounters.
Bear Watch With Us
We love bears and we know you do too. Several of our most popular tours include bear-watching experiences:
Churchill Polar Bears – October 2021 (7 Days)
Experience one of the world’s most wonderful natural phenomena — the annual polar bear migration on the coast of Hudson Bay. The world’s largest polar bear denning area is 40 km southeast of Churchill and has been protected in Wapusk National Park. The bears occupy this area through the summer and early fall. With October’s snow and approaching winter, the polar bears start to migrate north to Churchill and wait for the ice to form on Hudson Bay where they spend the winter hunting seals. Therefore, late October and early November are the prime viewing weeks and polar bear sightings are at their peak. This tour includes three nights in Churchill with two expeditions in the Tundra Buggy to watch polar bears.
CHURCHILL POLAR BEARS
Interior – October 25, 2021 – 7 Days
Inside Passage & Skeena Train – July, 2022 (8 Days)
Enjoy a grizzly bear watching tour at Khutzeymateen Sanctuary as part of this exploration of BC’s North Coast. The 500-kilometre journey from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert aboard BC Ferries’ Northern Expedition takes 15 hours, all in daylight to permit great viewing of the rugged coastline and abundant wildlife. In Prince Rupert, we thrill to a 7- hour catamaran excursion to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary and also tour the restored North Pacific Cannery. Then we board VIA Rail’s Skeena Train for a spectacular all-day journey east to Prince George in deluxe ‘Touring Class’ with seating in the dome car. We drive south through the Cariboo with a visit to the historic gold rush town of Barkerville.
Contact us to learn more about either of these bear-watching tours. We hope you’ll join us!