Photo: A Kodiak brown bear emerges from a river

Kodiak bears are a particularly large subspecies of brown bear, endemic only to the Kodiak archipelago off the Alaska coast.

Photograph by George F. Mobley

Map

Map: Brown bear range

Brown Bear Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Omnivore
Average life span in the wild:
25 years
Size:
5 to 8 ft (1.5 to 2.5 m)
Weight:
700 lbs (318 kg)
Group name:
Sloth or sleuth
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Brown bear compared with adult man

The awe-inspiring brown bear lives in the forests and mountains of northern North America, Europe, and Asia. It is the most widely distributed bear in the world.

These omnivorous giants tend to be solitary animals, except for females and their cubs, but at times they do congregate. Dramatic gatherings can be seen at prime Alaskan fishing spots when the salmon swim upstream for summer spawning. In this season dozens of bears may gather to feast on the fish, craving fats that will sustain them through the long winter ahead. In fall a brown bear may eat as much as 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of food each day, and it may weigh twice as much before hibernation as it will in spring.

Brown bears dig dens for winter hibernation, often holing up in a suitable hillside. Females, or she-bears, den while pregnant and give birth during this winter rest, usually to a pair of cubs. Brown bear cubs nurse on their mother's milk until spring and stay with her for some two and a half years—so females only reproduce once every three years.

Adult brown bears are powerful, top-of-the-food chain predators, but much of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots. Bears also eat other animals, from rodents to moose.

The world's largest brown bears are found in coastal British Columbia and Alaska, and on islands such as Kodiak.

Despite their enormous size, brown bears are extremely fast, having been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if a person gets between a mother bear and her cubs.

Mammal Features

  • Photo: Close-up of an African lion

    Animal Conservation

    Find out what National Geographic Society is doing to save animals all over the world, and learn what you can do to help.

  • hawaiian-monk-critter-cam.jpg

    Crittercam Helps Study Rare Species

    The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the oldest species of seal on the planet. But their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end; only about 1,100 seals remain in the wild.

  • Masai Mara Lion

    Lions Quiz

    The king of cats rules with a roar and a fierce bite. What else do you know about this top predator?

  • Photo: Lion bares his teeth

    Cause an Uproar

    Big cats are quickly disappearing. Now is the time to act. Cause an uproar to save big cats today.

Animals

From the Magazine

  1. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  2. Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.