General facts about all bears:

Kodiak bear ©Getty Images

Kodiak bear ©Getty Images

  • Bears are mammals.
  • Bears are found in many habitats in different countries.
  • Bears all have a large body with strong legs and a short tail. They have a snout rather like a dog's snout. They have shaggy fur. Their paws have five claws that do not pull back like a cat's claws do.
  • Bears generally live alone, except when a mother is raising cubs.
  • There are eight different kinds of bear. 

What do brown bears look like?

Brown bears are the second biggest of the eight kinds of bear. They have a very big head and a long snout. They have a shoulder hump, which is made up of fat and muscle. The shoulder muscles are very big and strong to help them move rocks,  dig up roots in hard, rocky ground and tear apart big logs in their search for food.

Brown bears are usually a mid brown colour, but can be much darker or paler.  Very rarely, there is a white one.

Brown bears have a characteristic shoulder hump. ©Getty Images

Brown bears have a characteristic shoulder hump. ©Getty Images

Their fur is very thick, and has two layers: the underneath layer is soft and keeps them warm in winter, while the outer layer is coarse.  In summer, they shed much of their underneath layer. They have rounder, smaller ears than black bears. Their slightly curved claws are 5-10 cm long.

What is their habitat and distribution? (where they are found)

Grizzly bear ©Getty Images

Grizzly bear ©Getty Images

There are more brown bears than any other kind of bear, and they are found in many different countries.  They are found in the mountains and forests of the northern part of North America, Europe and Asia.  

Brown bears in the northern United States and Canada are named grizzly bears because the tip of each hair is silver, which gives them a look known as ‘grizzled’.   In Alaska they are known as Kodiak bears, the largest of the brown bears, found on Kodiak Island.  In other places in the USA,  and in other parts of the world,  they are called brown bears.

Brown bears live in a variety of habitats, depending on the country in which they live. Habitats where brown bears can be found include tundra, taiga (evergreen forests), deciduous forests (trees that shed leaves in autumn), grasslands and coastal areas.

What are their behaviours?

Brown bears have active times both in the daytime and the night time, but generally rest in a cool and shady spot during the hottest part of the day.  Most bears live alone, except when females are raising cubs. 

They eat a lot of food in autumn to build up fat in their bodies to last them through winter when food is scarce. They spend winter in a state of torpor, which means they sleep most of the time but do wake up and go outside of the den for short periods. There is little food around, so the stores of fat in their bodies keep them going, and by sleeping, they are using very little energy.

Brown bear catching a leaping salmon. ©Getty Images

Brown bear catching a leaping salmon. ©Getty Images

What do brown bears eat?

Brown bears are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and meat.  Their food varies with the seasons and also by where they live. They eat grasses, roots, berries, nuts, insects and grubs, birds and animals. Bears catch and eat fish in lakes, rivers and the sea. If they find dead animals, called carrion, they eat that too.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

What is their life cycle?

Brown bears mate in late summer, but the babies only develop inside the female if she builds up enough fat stores to keep herself and them healthy through winter.  She makes her den for the winter, and her cubs are born while she is sleeping.  Generally two cubs are born.

In spring, the mother and cubs come out of the den.  Cubs stay with their mother for two years but sometimes three.

Conservation status and threats

  • Brown bears in most places are not endangered.  However, threats include decreasing habitat as forests are cut down.

  • Grizzly bears are classified as Threatened.   

  • Himalayan brown bear and the Tibetan brown bear are classified as Endangered.

  • The Marsican brown bear, found only in the Abruzzo National Park in Italy, is classified as Critically Endangered.

Grizzly bear ©Getty Images

Grizzly bear ©Getty Images

Watch a video about kodiak bears and polar bears in the Arctic