How to Identify Grizzly vs Black Bears

Grizzly Vs Black Bears

Both grizzly and black bears are found in Island Park, eastern Idaho, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Both species are attracted by smells and can detect odors from several miles away. Both species return to places where they found food before – coming back to your home, yard, campground, or neighborhood if they previously found food there, even years before. Both species are powerfully strong. Both can run much faster than a person – about 35 miles per hour. Both can climb trees. Both can attack to defend cubs or a food source or when they feel threatened. Both can be dangerous to people or pets.

Regarding appearance, they can be difficult to tell apart. Both grizzly and black bears may appear in a wide range of colors. Grizzlies are generally larger than black bears, but not always. The best indicators of the species are the size of the shoulders, the profile of the face, and the length of the claws. The grizzly bear has a pronounced shoulder hump, and the black bear does not.


Defining Characteristics Of Grizzly & Black Bears

Graphic courtesy of IGBC


Why You Need To Understand The Difference

Grizzly and black bears often respond differently when encountering a human – but not always!

Grizzly Bears

  • Grizzly bears prefer to stay away from human settlements and have been eradicated from many heavily used or populated areas. 
  • Startled grizzlies may be more likely to charge and occasionally attack
  • Grizzly bears may be more likely than black bears to defend themselves or become aggressive when threatened.

Black Bears

  • Black bears tend to be less aggressive and more tolerant of people. 
  • Black bears are shy and secretive. If they know people are around, they usually hide, climb a tree or leave the area.
  •  A black bear’s first line of defense is often to retreat – but not always
  • Startled black bears might be more likely to run away, often to a tree

More Resources!

Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee

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People & Carnivores

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Idaho Fish & Game

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Photo credits: Top photo by Charlie Lansche, middle grizzly by Kevin Pace.