Black Bear Field Safety

Thursday 20 June 2024

The focus of this blog is for individuals working in high-risk environments such as  blueberry fields or apiaries. When out in the field, one thing to keep in mind is to watch out for Bears! Black Bears can be found in many areas, and being prepared for an encounter is crucial for field safety. Black bears (Ursus americanus), are the only bear species in Atlantic Canada. The focus on this blog will be understanding bear behavior.

Black Bear Field Safety

Understanding bear body language is vital for staying safe in their presence. Some key behaviors to watch for are listed below.

Standing on Hind Legs: When a bear stands on its hind legs it is usually curious and trying to get a better view or taking a smell of its surroundings. This is not an necessarily an aggressive posture but a way for the bear to better understand it’s surroundings.

Blowing and Snorting: Bears often blow air forcefully through their nostrils or make snorting sounds when they are agitated or want to communicate their discomfort. This can be a warning sign to back off and give it more space. 

Huffing: Low huffing noises are another indication that the bear is nervous or feels threatened. It may also pop its jaws or clack its teeth together. These are clear signs that the bear is uncomfortable with your presence. 

Yawning and Salivating: Excessive yawning, salivating, or drooling can indicate stress. A bear displaying these behaviors may be feeling cornered or threatened. 

Paw Swatting: When a bear slaps the ground or swats with its paws, it is signaling that it is ready to defend itself. This is a more aggressive posture, indicating that the bear wants you to leave. Best thing to do is leave the area while keeping an eye on the bear.

Ears Laid Back: If a bear’s ears are laid back against its head, it is showing signs of aggression. This, coupled with growling or other aggressive vocalizations, means the bear is extremely uncomfortable and potentially ready to charge. 

Bluff Charging: Bears might move side to side or make short, false charges toward you. Bluff charges are meant to intimidate and scare you off rather than result in a physical attack. For this stand your ground make yourself bigger and prepare your bear spray, but do not run. 

Full Charge: In rare cases, a bear may commit to a full charge. This can be extremely dangerous. If you have bear spray this is when you would consider using it.

Understanding these behaviors can help you make the best decisions in the case of an incident, so you know when you are in danger or when a bear is simply just curious. There are other ways to mitigate the risks from a bear attack

Black bears in the woods © Parks Canada / Lynn and Donna Rogers

When working in the field, taking steps to minimize the risk of a bear encounters is key. Begin by avoid snacking and eating in the field. If you must eat, do it in your vehicle and when done make sure all the food scraps are stored away inside your vehicle to avoid lingering smells. Carry a bear alarm and bear spray, this equipment might just save your life. A bear alarm is the first step when encountering a bear and bear spray is a last resort but what is bear spray? Bear spray is a more potent form of pepper spray designed specifically to deter aggressive bears. It contains capsaicin, which is the active component in chili peppers, which can cause temporary blindness, difficulty breathing, and discomfort. To avoid scaring bears when working out in the field do not stay quiet. Make noise by talking loudly or clapping your hands.

Understanding black bear behavior and taking preventative measures can reduce the risk of an encounter and increase the chance of a positive outcome if you run into one in the wild. When working in the field always remember to keep an eye out for bears and carry a bear alarm, bear spray and never work alone.

Written by Gregory Dugas, ATTTA Seasonal Apiculturist


Parks Canada. (n.d.). Ours noir (black bear). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from 

Boonman-Berson, S., Turnhout, E., & Carolan, M. (2016). Common sensing: Human-black bear cohabitation practices in Colorado. Geoforum, 74Common sensing: Human-black bear cohabitation practices in Colorado - ScienceDirect

 Parks Canada. (n.d.). Ours noir (black bear). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

Get Bear Smart Society. (n.d.). Dispelling myths about bears. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

Western Wildlife Outreach. (n.d.). Black bear biology & behavior. Western Wildlife Outreach. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from 

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