Bear crossing sign adjacent to a highway in Ocala, FL

Living with Florida Black Bears

Florida black bears, Ursus americanus floridanus, currently inhabit 45% of their historic range but bear sightings are on the rise. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimates there is currently a robust bear population with at least 4,050 bears living in Florida as of 2016.

We’re well into spring here in Central Florida and springtime is the season when mother bears begin to roam the woods with their cubs. During this time, mother bears are teaching their cubs how to find food. Florida black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat a varied diet consisting of fruits, nuts and other plant matter (80%), insects (15%), and meat (5%). They are opportunistic feeders and can smell food from over a mile away. Remember, bears will eat things we may not consider food like garbage, pet food, bird seed, or field dressing remains.

Map by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showing population distribution of Florida Black Bears as of 2016.

Courtesy of FWC

Where do Florida Black Bears Live?

Bears prefer habitat with a mixture of upland and lowland areas that can provide the food, water, and shelter they need. Bears live throughout Florida, but there are certain areas of the state known to have more bears. Generally, there are more bears in areas of Florida with large parcels of public lands.

There are seven bear “sub-populations” in Florida: Eglin, Apalachicola, Osceola, Ocala, Big Cypress, Glades/Highlands, and Chassahowitzka.

You can learn more about the current bear population by visiting http://MyFWC.com/Bears.

Preventing Human-Bear Conflicts in Your Community
Florida Black Bears eating from an open trash can

“Bear in Trash Can” 2008 Photo By: FWC

You can reduce the potential for human-bear conflicts in your neighborhood by securing garbage in a sturdy shed or garage. Furthermore, taking garbage to the curb on the morning of pick up prevents overnight access by bears and other wildlife.

It is illegal in the state of Florida to feed bears, intentionally or unintentionally. What this means is that you should never feed a bear or other wildlife. Additionally, you should not leave pet food out overnight because it may also attract a bear or other wildlife.

What if I See a Florida Black Bear?

Bears will let you know if they feel uncomfortable by snapping their jaws, swatting the ground or by “bluff charging.” Always remember to respect bears – they are large, powerful, wild animals that can act unpredictably and become dangerous.

Florida Black Bear in a tree

“Bear in a tree.” Photo by FWC

If you encounter a bear at a distance, do not approach the bear. Enjoy the experience from a safe distance and back away slowly. Surprising a bear, blocking escape routes, and making eye contact could make the bear feel threatened and should be avoided if at all possible.

If you encounter a bear at close range, there are some simple things to remember for your safety:

  • Stay calm
  • Do not make eye contact
  • Make yourself look big by raising your arms
  • Back away slowly

Black bears can sprint up to 35 mph and are great climbers. Never run or climb a tree to escape a Florida black bear; it may trigger their chase instinct and possibly an attack. If a bear stands up, try not to react. Bears are curious and will stand up to get a better look at you and their surroundings.

Scare That Bear!

If you see a bear in your yard, consider “scaring that bear!” The goal of Scare That Bear! is to preserve their natural fear of people. Reinforce their timid nature by scaring bears that wander onto your property or near your home. Some things to remember before “scaring that bear”:

  • Ensure the bear has an easy escape route away from you and your home
  • Check that you are in a secure area at a safe distance from the bear
  • Use noise or water to scare the bear away

Hitting pots and pans together, turning on sprinklers, or honking car horns are all acceptable ways to scare off a bear. Remember, bears are a protected species. Learn more about appropriate ways to Scare That Bear from FWC: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/living/scare/ 

Where can I Find More Information?

 

Florida Black Bears Crossing Sign

“Bear Crossing Sign” Photo By: FWC

For more information on Florida black bears and how to avoid conflicts with them, see FWC’s black bear website at www.MyFWC.com/Bear.

To report human-bear conflicts, a new bear in your neighborhood, or someone feeding/attracting bears, call the FWC regional office in Lakeland at 863-648-3200 during business hours or FWC’s Toll-Free Wildlife Alert Hotline (1-888-404-3922) after-hours.

For more information for residents, see UF/IFAS Extension’s “Living with the Florida Black Bear: a Homeowner’s Guide to Nuisance Bear Prevention” at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw250.

 

Sources:

  • http://www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw250
  • http://myfwc.com/bear
  • http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/living/scare/
  • http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/bmu/
  • http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/numbers/
  • http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/facts/biology/

2 Comments on “Living with Florida Black Bears

  1. Black bears can swim, so jumping in some water to avoid an attack won’t work. There are many reports, even YouTube videos, that say singing, especially off-key, will scare a bear away. I wonder if making a haunting wail like a ghost would be effective? I wish these various bear websites would say what bicyclists should do. Pedal as fast as you can in the opposite direction or get off and “back away slowly”?

    • Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your comment. You’re right in that jumping in the water is not a good way to scare a bear. We do recommend “Scaring that bear” by talking to the bear, in a low, firm, deep voice, in addition to yelling, making noise and “looking big” by raising your arms. That said, I couldn’t tell you how a bear might react to singing off-key or with a haunting wail.
      As far as bicyclists are concerned, Florida black bears can sprint up to 35 miles per hour, so I wouldn’t advise getting on a bike and attempting to flee if you are at a close distance. At a close distance, act large and back away slowly. If you are a far distance away, I’d recommend stopping and allowing that bear to move on it’s way. If you are concerned about surprising a bear while biking, you could add a “bear-bell” to your bike frame which might alert the bear to your presence and give him or her time to hide or leave the area.
      For more specific recommendations regarding bear encounters while biking or to report an aggressive bear, contact Florida Fish and Wildlife: http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/regional-offices/

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