Contrary to popular belief, nearly every species of bear eats more herbs, fruits, berries, and vegetables than meat:
- Panda bears almost exclusively eat bamboo.
- Black, brown and grizzly bears have nuts, berries and foliage as about 80% of their diet.
- Polar bears mostly eat seal.
Bears are foragers and spend most of their day searching for food. Because of this they will eat almost anything they find including plants, smaller animals and even a campground picnic.
Some species of bear, like the black bear, are not even natural hunters and very rarely hunt any animals. Instead, they choose to eat plants, nuts, fruits and insects.
How many Herbs, Berries, Nuts and Fruits do Bears Eat?
|Species||Percentage of Diet that is Herbage, Fruit, and Nuts|
|North American Black, Grizzly and Brown Bears||80% – 90%|
|Polar Bears||0% – 10%|
Do Grizzly and Black Bears Eat Berries?
The black bear, brown bear and grizzly bear eat a lot of nuts, seeds, grasses, fruits and vegetables each day.
Common herbs and berries consumed by black, brown and grizzly bears include:
- Water Chickweed (Miner’s lettuce)
Black, brown, and grizzly bears eat a wide variety of plants. They enjoy flowering plants, roots, tubers, grasses, fruits and berries.
Before hibernating they look for nuts, starchy tubers and roots as they help build up the fat reserves needed for hibernation.
Bears have also been known to love carrots, tomatoes, squash, melons, corn, potatoes and other seedlings. However, it’s important not to feed these foods to bears because we don’t want them to become reliant on humans to live. This would just cause more human-bear conflict.
Bears love flowering plants too. Bears will feed on dandelions, clovers, aspen leaves and other freshly flowered plants.
They also eat the nests of bees and wasps, and soft fruits and berries in summer. Some favourites of bears include currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and chokeberries.
Bears enjoy acorns, nuts and mountain ash in the cooler months when there aren’t as many berries and fruits.
They do also eat smaller mammals, fish and insects, but often prefer to forage for sweet berries and fruits. In fact, ninety percent of a black bears diet is fruit and vegetables.
Hibernating bears, like black and grizzly bears, need to change their diet to accommodate the season. They will adapt to what their habitat provide for them.
Nevertheless, throughout the year, 90% to 95% of the grizzly and black bear diet will be made up of berries, fruits, and vegetables.
Do Polar Bears Eat Berries and Plants?
Polar bears are the only bears who primarily eat meat in the form of seals. However, in summer when they are on land, they will consume a small amount of fruits, berries and seaweed kelp.
Due to their harsh icy habitat, there are far less berries and plants available to them. Because of this, polar bears have to spend a lot more time hunting other animals like seals for food than other bear species. They’ve adapted and evolved to become good seal hunters, unlike their brown bear ancestors.
Do Panda Bears Eat Plants and Berries?
Panda bears almost exclusively eat bamboo. Bamboo is a plant native to the Asian regions that Pandas live.
Pandas live in the Yangtze basin where they migrated to many thousands of years ago. It is here where they found refuge from predators and ample amounts of bamboo to eat.
They eat the shoots, leaves and stems of bamboo trees. They need two different species of bamboo to avoid starvation. They can spend up to 16 hours each day eating bamboo as it provides very little nutritional value.
We know that Pandas are almost exclusively bamboo eaters nowadays because their teeth have evolved to be dull rather than sharp. This shows us that they haven’t used their teeth to rip into meat for many generations.
Although pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo, they can also eat things like eggs, insects, beans and wheat.
A Panda will eat 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo per day.
Because Pandas are so reliant on bamboo for their diet, we need to protect their bamboo forests from deforestation.
Are Berries Central to the Bear’s Diet?
A bear will change their diet depending on what season it is, and what is available to them in their habitat.
In spring and summer, herbage makes up the bulk of a North American bear’s diet (around 65%). This includes grasses, forbs, flowers, and milkweeds. Heading into Fall, there is less herbage available, and seeds, nuts and berries become about 65% of the diet, while herbage drops to around 10%.
Table: Common Yosemite Black Bear Diet
|Herbage (Grasses, Sedges, Rushes, Milkweed, Lupins, Flowers)||65%||50%||15%|
|Seeds, Nuts and Berries (e.g. Blackberries)||15%||60%||65%|
|Other (Human garbage, carrion meat)||20%||10%||20%|
Most commonly bears will eat seeds, grass, nuts, fruits and berries. They forage around the forests and mountains looking for these things to eat. They also consume insects and other small animals.
Brown and black bears have also been seen in people’s backyards eating trash, remnants of a barbeque on a grill, birdseed, fruit from fruit trees, pet food and even small household pets like chickens.
Bears are very good at sniffing out food and will return somewhere they know they can eat.
Bears are also excellent fisherman. Bears often stand in lakes and catch fish. Grizzly bears are particularly good at this.
Bears eat a wide range of foods. All bears are natural foragers and opportunists, meaning they are constantly searching for food and will eat whatever they can find. Most bears are omnivores and can enjoy fruits or meat products.
Most bears prefer to eat a diet made up almost entirely of fruits, seeds, vegetables and grasses.
But bears also change their diets depending on the season and their habitat. For this reason, polar bears mainly eat seals, while some bears, like the panda, almost only eat plants. This means they often have to eat large volumes in order to avoid starvation.