Are Black Bears Vegetarian? (A Detailed Guide – Explained!)

There are many questions regarding black bears and their eating habits. And among those queries, one is “Are the black bears vegetarian”?

Here’s a quick answer –

Black bears are not directly vegetarian. They are originally omnivores. 

However, black bears make 90% of their diet from plants. Most of the time they eat grass, stems, dandelions, flowers, fruit, vegetables, etc. 

But, they cannot be entirely vegetarian since meat is important for their diet.

So, if black bears are omnivores, what exactly do they eat? 

Table of Contents

What Do Black Bears Eat?

Black bears eat the majority of their food in the form of plants, vegetables, fruits, insects, and meat. In addition to that, black bears will occasionally eat honeycombs and fish.

The diet of the American black bear, on the other hand, is quite diverse.

During the warmer months when their hibernation is over, black bears have a huge hunger. During these months, they invest the majority of their time eating, traveling, and resting.

Because they hibernate for such an extended amount of time, black bears favor diets that are high in fat, sugar, and protein.

Black Bears Eat Plants

Plants are a rich source of nutrition for black bears. Their enlarged digestive tract helps them get more nutrients from plants of different kinds.


An image of fruits as a diet of black bears
  • Blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Rose hips
  • Elderberries
  • Huckleberries
  • Juneberries
  • Dogwoods
  • Chokecherries
  • Apple
  • Wild sarsaparilla


  • Tomatoes
  • Squashes
  • Melons
  • Sweet corn
  • Potatoes 
  • Skunk cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots


An image of nuts as a diet for black bears
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Beechnuts
  • Acron

Other Plants

  • Dandelions
  • Catkins
  • Grasses
  • Clovers
  • Alfalfa
  • Acorn

Black Bears Eat Meat

Although most of their food comes from plants, black bears are also carnivores. Other than searching for fruits and vegetables, they also hunt for meat.

Bears of this species can recall the locations of the birthing grounds of several mammals. They will continue to hunt in those places year after year. 

Moreover, before going to hibernation, they need enough protein to put on weight. So, they hunt a variety of animals and birds. 

For example:

  • Grouse
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Caribou
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Gophers
  • Moose

Black Bears Eat Fish

Depending on where they live, American black bears will also consume a wide variety of fish in their diet. 

They hunt fish in shallow waters. For black bears from the Western Pacific Coast fish is a must!

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Carp
  • Catfish 

Black Bears Eat Insects:

An image of insects as a diet for black bears

Insects and worms make up a significant portion of a black bear’s diet. Because of the high protein need, bears rely heavily on insects as a primary source of diet. 

When there is a lack of fruits and vegetables, they will eat insects. The sticky tongue of a black bear is adapted for observing and catching insects.

  • Wasp
  • Bees
  • Grubs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Caterpillars
  • Moths
  • Earthworms 
  • Pupae
  • Larvae

The Black Bear Diet

90% of their food comes from plants like fruits, vegetables, grass, flowers, etc. And only 10% of their food consists of meat. Most of the time they look for plant-based food. 

They hunt for meat only when necessary.

Black bears are omnivores. Hence, the diet of a black bear is quite diverse and contains many different kinds of food. To fulfill their many nutritional needs, black bears eat a wide range of foods. 

Furthermore, hibernation is a yearly activity that can last for as long as seven months for American black bears. 

They have to ensure that they build up their fat stores for the remainder of the year before the winter. 

So, because they hibernate for such an extended amount of time, black bears favor diets that are high in fat, sugar, and protein.

How Frequent Do Black Bears Eat Plants?

When not sleeping, black bears eat plants very frequently. 

They need to eat 20,000 calories a day. To fulfill this amount, they hunt for plants every now and then. Black bears even hunt for food for 20 hours during the hyperphagia phase

So, since most of their diet consists of plants, they will have to look for edible plants very frequently.

Is There Any Difference Based on the Season?

Yes, depending on each season, the diet of black bears differs. They make their diet whatever they get in each season. 

Also, since they hibernate they have to prepare their body as per their seasonal needs.

Season Diet
SpringFresh greens like grasses, dandelions, leaves, catkins, roots
Summer Berries, soft fruits, and insects 
Fall Oaks, Hickories, Fish 
WinterStop eating and hibernate 


Black bears leave their caves in the spring and head for lowland areas. Here they look for fresh greens. 

They will eat between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day from a wide variety of foods. For example, grasses, dandelions, leaves, catkins, roots, and so on.

The protein content of flowers and leaves is highest in the spring. Because their cell walls lack cellulose and lignin, they are also easier to digest. 

They might also hunt rodents, moose, and calves to get their protein needs met.


Black bears eat berries, soft fruits, and insects throughout the summer months. 

Their favorite summer diet includes:

  • Strawberries
  • Chokecherries
  •  Blueberries
  •  Dogwoods
  • Raspberries
  • Pokeweed
  • Red Mulberries
  • Wild Sarsaparilla 

Even if berries taste better, they also get a lot of protein from eating insects. In the summer, bears make their diet as much as 15%  from insects.

They look for insects like yellow jackets, honey bees, bumblebees, and carpenter ants. They even eat the larvae and pupae.


To survive the winter, bears will try to gain as much weight as possible in the fall. Their winter slumber wouldn’t be possible without this resource.

The bears’ diet shifts from soft mast species to hard mast species during the fall. 

Bears rely on hard mast because it is high in fat and carbohydrates. So that they can build up energy stores before the hibernation period.

That is why they will change their diet from berries and grasses to oaks and hickories. 

The seaside black bears will often look to fish as a source of protein. In other areas, black bears must rely on grasses, flowers, roots, rodents, and carrion.


The black bear will hibernate during the colder months of November and December.

During this time, they will stop eating and instead live off of the fat they stored up in the fall.

However, many bears choose not to hibernate when they live in warmer areas. And in that case, they primarily rely on human food waste, scrap, and dead animals.

Do Black Bears Prefer Plants to Meat?

Yes, black bears prefer plants to meat due to their nutritional needs.

To get energy and important nutrients bears mostly prefer plant-based foods.

Also, they have a one-chambered stomach which makes the digestive tract long. That is why they prefer eating plants so that they can have extra nutrition.

Furthermore, they prefer eating plants and flowers when they are newborns. The tender new plants are simpler to digest. And during the spring, black bears prefer eating plants that are high in protein and low in fiber. 

So, although meat has its own nutritional value, black bears need plants more in their diet. So, can they survive on a vegan diet?

Can Black Bears Survive on a Vegan Diet?

An image of a vegan diet not as a food for black bears

No, black bears cannot survive on a vegan diet. This is because they are omnivores. It means apart from plants, they also eat meat, fish as well as insects.

Besides plants, they do need nutrients from meat and fish.

Meat, fish, and insects are high in protein and give them the required energy during the hibernation period. Whereas plants are not that high in protein.

So, a vegan diet will not fulfill their body requirements. It will lack in terms of nutrition and energy.


To conclude, black bears are omnivores. They eat fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat, fish, insects, and sometimes even garbage. 

However, most of their diet includes different kinds of plants. But sometimes they also hunt when they feel like eating meat.

Their diet in fact also depends on different seasons. They prefer eating different things in different seasons. Also, since they hibernate, their food intake also depends on their body clock.

So, it can be said that black bears are very diverse when it comes to their food choices. 

Curious to learn about the diet of grizzly bears too? Read Are Grizzly Bears Omnivores or Carnivores? (Complete Guide!)