Bears make roaring, barking, and howling sounds. Like other animals, they make those sounds to communicate with one another and with other species.
The majority of bear vocalizations toward humans occur in response to perceived threats. These sounds are usually noises of distress. They can utilize these vocalizations to defuse situations, which rarely result in a physical confrontation.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the noises made by bears are signs of anxiety, fear, or agitation rather than a statement of aggressiveness. However, be prepared to defend yourself with bear spray if it approaches.
Bear noises vary in loudness and intensity depending on the circumstances, but the sounds listed here are the most frequent.
What Sounds do Bears Make?
1. Grunting and Tongue Clicking
Bears utilize low-volume grunts as a welcoming method of embracing other bears in the vicinity. You might also hear them use tongue clicks, which is also usually an amicable noise for bears.
These grunts and tongue clicks are frequently employed as a signal delivered from a mother to her cubs when she detects danger and commands them to climb a tree or seek shelter.
Below is some footage of a bear using calm and low-volume grunting to call her cub down from a tree. You’ll also notice in this video some characteristic snorting as the mother bathes:
2. Snorting, Huffing, and Woofing
By blowing a big breath of air between their nose and lips, bears produce a rather loud, harsh, snorting, woofing, or huffing sound.
Bear snorting is often simply a noise they make as they go about their business. Hidden camera footage, like the footage embedded above, often shows them making these snorting sounds while walking around or bathing.
In fact, as they make these noises so often, it may be the first sign you have of a bear on your hiking tail.
However, they do also snort to show anxiety or anger and occasionally as a precursor to being violent.
3. Purring or Humming
When cubs are nursing with their mother or enjoying a favorite meal, they often produce a contented humming or purring sound.
Adult bears also make this sound while enjoying delicious food but at a much lower pitch.
They pur in similar situations to cats.
There’s also footage of bears purring when they’re around their human carers, an indication of the closeness and affection of some bears and handlers. Below, for example, is some footage of a polar bear purring when playing with her handler:
4. Bawling or Screaming
Cubs in distress produce a loud, high-pitched crying or sobbing sound, such as when removed from their mother or in physical discomfort.
When an adult bear is in agony, it makes a similar sound, albeit at a lower pitch than a cub.
The below footage shows a bear crying for her mother. It’s evident in the whining pitch of her voice that this cub is feeling distressed that her mother is not nearby:
Similarly, in the below footage, an even younger cub is crying in distress for her mother. You can hear that this sound is much closer to the cry of a newborn baby human, reflecting the higher level of helplessness and distress in younger mammals:
5. Bellowing and Roaring
A loud, booming sound is often accompanied by a renowned roar when bears fight amongst themselves, such as when they engage in an intense struggle over a female during the mating season.
The roaring noises may be a mix of terror and a severe warning to back off, and although a bear’s roar is mighty, it is nothing like a lion’s actual roar.
The below fight, for example, shows bears bellowing at each other in a stand-off. One bear approaches the other to battle over a mate, who is watching from a distance.
The two bears bellow at each other as a way to intimidate the other before the fight takes place. During the engagement, they’re largely silent. Notice, too, that once one bear has shown submission, the other leave him to retreat.
6. Growling and Moaning
When adult bears are afraid, they emit a characteristic groaning sound. These fear-induced moans are also misinterpreted for bear growls, mainly when performed at a low pitch.
These growls are, usually, growls of fear. Bears are characteristically skittish creatures who would rather flee than attack. In fact, there have been remarkably few instances of deaths from bear attacks in comparison to the number of bear encounters.
Below is the sound of a bear growl:
7. Teeth Clacking and Jaw Popping
When bears are frightened, they may close their jaws and produce a clacking sound with their teeth.
This is also a frequent distress signal used by sows to warn their offspring of impending danger. Humans often mistake these noises with danger signals, but they are an indication of fear.
8. Huffing and Pounding
Often, bears who are trying to assert their dominance over humans will huff while also pounding their paws against the ground.
Huffing while also slamming the ground is often a precursor to a charge (which may be a false charge, where they pull back at the last second).
Often, these noises are just bluster, with the bear trying to assert dominance over a territory without actually engaging in combat which may cause harm to him.
In general, bears do not want to fight as it is too great of a risk to them. Nevertheless, it’s hard to know when a bear is serious, so huffing and pounding should be taken seriously. The bear wants you gone and is signalling that it’s willing to stand its ground.
Bears communicate to keep cubs and moms together, locate mates, and ease social conflicts. They communicate through a language of dominance and submission, violence and solicitation.
They respond to humans in the same manner as they would to another bear.
You can often avoid negative bear interactions if you pay heed to what bears have to say. The majority of the time, bear behavior is misunderstood. Too frequently, people interpret what a bear does as aggression rather than fear.
In states with high bear populations like Maine, local governments impose regulations to help mitigate any bear-human conflicts.