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Vocalizations & Body Language

Black bears use sounds, body language, and scent-marking to express their emotions of the moment.

The main thing that helped me get over my fear of bears was learning their language—learning to interpret bear bluster in terms of their fear rather than my fear—learning that behaviors I thought were threatening were really expressions of their own apprehension.     - Lynn L. Rogers, Ph.D., 2007 

 

Amiable sounds are grunts and tongue clicks used by mothers concerned for their cubs and by bears approaching other bears to mate or play.  Cubs make a motor-like pulsing hum when they nurse or are especially comfortable. 

(hear sounds below) 

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Harmless Bluster

terri_lunging.jpg Bear Center researchers see bluster when bears are nervous and crowded but reluctant to leave because of cubs, food, or being cornered. 

The researchers usually give these bears space, out of respect, but find them easy to chase away.  These researchers have never had a blustery bear come after them and make contact.   Bluster is how bears talk about situations without fighting or retreating.  If bluster fails, bears have retreated in every situation these researchers have seen. 

(see video below) 

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Sociable Sounds

In the wild, bears make a plaintive sound when they want to make friendly contact, take food from a bear they know, or nurse.

Mothers grunt when they approach their cubs, are concerned about them, or want them to come down from trees.  When a mother returns from foraging, she looks up the tree where she left her cubs and grunts.   Although cubs immediately come down in popular literature, cubs in nature have minds of their own about that.  When the cubs do not come down, the mother may become agitated and give double and triple grunts, perhaps feeling a need to nurse or move to a new spot.  If the cubs do not come down, she may climb up and carry one down.

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The Black Bears' Voice

Black bears not only communicate with grunts, tongue-clicks, and blowing.  They have a resonant voice.  It is not the barking, growling voice of a dog and is seldom the shrill voice of a house cat.  It is distinctly bear-like with a near human quality that is easy to mimic.  

Examples of the black bear's resonant voice, include:

  • a cub screaming in terror 
  • an adult male's moan of fear 
  • a bereft mother crying
  • the grumbling sounds of upset bears 
  • the intense sounds of fighting males