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Are Bears Scavengers or Hunters? (They’re Both!)

Most species of bears are both scavengers and hunters. They’re considered omnivores that eat meat and plants, just like humans do. They hunt for prey like seals, deer, and moose, but also scavenge leftovers and carrion (decaying animal flesh) killed by other predators or of animals that died naturally.

A bear eating a piece of bark
Bears hunt other species, but also scavenge and forage for easier meals.

According to Yellowstone Park, bears are apex predators and impressive hunters that regularly kill prey for food. These massive giants can easily crack a moose’s spine with one sway of their large paws!

Bears need a lot of calories (up to 20,000) especially before hibernation, to get through this period. When prey is scarce, a bear can also scavenge. Thanks to their sharp sense of smell, they can easily detect a corpse, even if it’s two miles away. 

This article explores if all species of bears are both scavengers and hunters and what is their preferred diet. 

Do Bears Always Hunt for Meat?

Although they’re classified differently, most bears today are considered omnivores because they eat food from both plant and animal origin. For example, the grizzly, polar bear, and black bear are listed under the Carnivora order, but they’re all omnivores.

Most bears consume plants and animals and are able to survive in plenty of environments. Many omnivore animals have teeth adapted to their diet that enable them to easily chew and crack even the toughest of foods. 

The black bear’s diet includes meat, but it’s also rich in plants. During summer, this mammal enjoys herbs, berries, nuts, grasses, and fruits. Although they’re not avid hunters like some other species of bears, they will consume a dead animal’s body if they come across one. 

The brown bear consumes roots, fungi, berries, grass, fish, carrion, mammals, and insects. It’s a much more active hunter than the black bear. It’s skilled in fish catching and often uses its long claws to dig for insects from logs and smaller mammals from burrows.

Some brown bears also hunt big prey like goats, elk, and moose.

The polar bear likes seals a lot and actively hunts for them on the Arctic sea covers.  However, when they can’t hunt for seals, they will eat just about any animal they can find, but mostly seabirds, reindeer, small rodents, fish, eggs, as well as berries, vegetation, and human garbage. 

Do All Bears Hunt for Prey? 

Bears are skilled predators that frequently hunt and kill prey to survive. And, they have all the factors to succeed, including a strong and massive body, big paws, and major biting force.

Bears kill prey by inflicting strong bites on the neck or spine. They can also kill prey easily with their forepaws. A bear may also bite prey in the snout. Although they like meat, they’re just as happy eating plants. 

Do Brown Bears Hunt?

The brown bear is an omnivore that consumes different plants, berries, fish, and mammals. This is an intelligent and curious bear that’s highly skilled in procuring food. 

The brown bear that lives in Yellowstone National Park is an efficient predator that preys on animals like elk calves and trout.  Due to their long claws and big shoulders, they’re effective diggers too. 

Moreover, the Alaskan brown bear is an opportunistic eater that will eat almost anything. They eat varied plants like flowers, grass, herbs, roots, and berries. To get their protein, they prey on salmon, deer, beavers, carcasses, and various small mammals.

Read More: Brown Bears vs Black Bears Differences

Do Black Bears Hunt?

The black bear is an omnivore that consumes both plant and animal origin foods, but tends to consume more plants than meat. They consume grass, leaves, and mast. Hard mast is the fruit of forest trees like hickory, acorns, and other nuts. 

The soft mast is fruits like pokeweed berries, holly, and saw palmetto. Insects are also a common part of their diet and they eat bees, termites, ants, and wasps. Around five percent of their diet comes from carrion.

Black Bear eating Elderberries
Although most bears eat meat, many bears also eat nuts, berries, and other plants

Do Polar Bears Hunt?

The polar bear is the most carnivorous bear species, although it also eats plants. Its body requires a diet that is based on plenty of seal fat for which they actively hunt. It will patiently wait for the prey next to the hole in the ice until it senses the seal. 

This bear is a good hunter due to its sharp sense of smell. Thanks to it, they easily locate seals’ birth lairs and break through the roof of the lair to catch prey.  Young bears scavenge carcasses of other bears’ prey while they’re still developing their own skills for hunting.

Sometimes, they also hunt beluga whales and walruses. When meat is unavailable, this bear has to satisfy its hunger with any other animal it comes by like rodents, seabirds, and reindeer, but also plants like berries and vegetation. 

Due to the ice melting in the Arctic, polar bears often need to wait longer before being able to hunt their favorite prey. For most part of the year, finding food is challenging for these bears.

Do All Bears Scavenge? 

All bears are scavengers and consume decaying meat or plants. Although they can hunt and kill their prey, they may also consume animals that have died from natural causes or left behind by other carnivores. 

According to National Geographic, although it’s not their preferred food source, animals will scavenge given the chance. Bears have no problem eating carrion if they find one or scavenge through garbage cans in human areas. 

Their sharp sense of smell allows them to easily track food and fill up their bellies which require plenty of energy and food, particularly before hibernation. 

Scavengers are often a threat to themselves or humans. For example, the polar bears in Churchill, Canada had adapted to living near an urban area and ate food from the town’s dump. 

They were a major threat in the community and some of them even got poisoned from some of the foods they had consumed from the garbage. The site was closed down in 2006 to keep the community and bears safe.

Grizzlies tend to scavenge meat from bison and elk carcasses or road kill. The black bear prefers plants, but will eat the carcass if it comes across it. It’s usually meat from killed animals or dead rodents and insects.

Polar bears prefer seals, but will scavenge on carrion of walrus, whales, and seals along the coast.

Conclusion

Although each species of bears has its preferred diet, all of them regularly hunt and scavenge for food. Generally speaking, they need around 5,000 calories on a daily basis, but this number significantly increases in the fall when it can reach 20,000!

This period is known as hyperphagia and bears are in a feeding frenzy and look to fill up with fat for the upcoming hibernation 24/7. Bears regularly hunt and kill other mammals for food and also consume plenty of plants to meet their caloric needs. 

In case they come across a carcass, bears will eat it since they’re opportunistic eaters. Sometimes, scavenging through dumpsters in urban areas happens, but this is threatening to both the bears’ survival and human safety. 

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