Georgia has a variety of landscapes that make it a great place to visit year-round.
Between the bustling metropolitan city of Atlanta and the peaceful North Georgia mountains, there’s a lot to do in this southern state for locals and vacationers alike.
The northern portion of Georgia is a mix of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountain ranges. It’s also home to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Here you can find mountain towns like Ellijay, Blue Ridge, and Dahlonega.
You can explore the outdoors in the North Georgia mountains and go hiking, camping, or mountain biking. The Ocmulgee River in central Georgia provides a great place to go fishing, canoeing, or kayaking.
Boating excursions and opportunities to explore a diverse ecosystem can be found in southern Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp. You might get the chance to spot an American alligator in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
A wide variety of wildlife can be seen throughout Georgia. So if you’re lining up a visit to the North Georgia mountains, you might be wondering:
Are there bears in Georgia?
Georgia is home to a large population of black bears. However, black bears are the only type of bear found in Georgia — no grizzly bears are known to live in Georgia, as their range is much further north. While black bear encounters and sighting are common, visitors to the North Georgia mountains and other areas shouldn’t be concerned about bear attacks — they’re extraordinarily rare and a fatal attack has never been recorded.
Let’s learn more about the black bears of Georgia!
Types of Bears Found in Georgia
There’s only one bear species in the state of Georgia — the American black bear.
It’s a common misconception that grizzly bears or brown bears can be found in Georgia, but their range is in the northwest and northern Canada. There is not a known population of grizzly bears in Georgia.
The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is found in Georgia and is the most common bear found throughout North America.
A subspecies of the American black bear, known as the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), is also found in Georgia.
American black bears are the only bears you will see in the state of Georgia.
Continue reading to learn all about American black bears in Georgia and the likelihood of spotting one while visiting this southern state!
American Black Bear
The American black bear is native to North America.
The habits and appearances of these bears can differ depending on what region of North America you’re in. They’re widely distributed, but are less common or no longer found in much of the Midwest.
Black bears can be found in three different regions in Georgia.
The North Georgia mountains (like Blue Ridge) have ample forests, wildlife reserves, and a national forest that provides an ideal habitat for black bears.
Central Georgia houses a black bear population along the Ocmulgee River, which is situated along the Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area.
In South Georgia, you can find the Florida black bear population.
These bears live around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This area protects an abundance of native wildlife and the famous Okefenokee Swamp wetlands.
The Florida black bear subspecies is slightly different from the American black bear. They’re distinguished by slight differences in genetics and skeletal features. Florida black bears are one of the 16 subspecies of American black bears in North America.
Appearance and Size
Black bears in Georgia are usually all black in color with a tan or blonde-colored snout.
Some may have white or blonde fur on their chest. Black bears in other regions across North America vary in color.
For example, some can be mostly cinnamon brown or blonde. This leads them to be easily confused with brown bears, or grizzlies.
Another subspecies of the American black bear is the glacier bear. These bears can have all white to bluish-gray fur. Black bears in the southeastern portion of the U.S. are mostly black.
American black bears are fairly small compared to other types of bears. Females are typically under 200 pounds, but males can reach up to 600 pounds or more!
From nose to tail, black bears range from 4 to 6 ft in length.
Black bears found in the North Georgia mountains can be slightly larger than others found elsewhere in the state. This is believed to be because of food availability.
Distribution and Population
Due to their wide distribution, American black bears are considered an abundant species and labeled as least concern for conservation status.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GNR) estimates that there are 4,100 black bears in Georgia as of April 2022.
Unregulated hunting and habitat loss led the black bear population to be at risk in the 1930s.
Wildlife management regulations and practices have helped restore the population and it’s remained stable.
The range of a black bear can vary depending on whether it’s male or female and the time of year.
Food is generally more scarce in the early spring and late summer, causing black bears to extend their home range.
(Bears are most active in Georgia during these periods.)
Adult males have the largest home range. It can be between 8 and 15 square miles. Younger males also have a larger range as they try to establish their own territory. Females have a smaller range, between 2 and 6 miles.
Black Bear Habitats in Georgia
Black bears prefer forested habitats or areas with tree or shrubbery coverage. These bears also reside in wetlands with a healthy amount of vegetation.
American black bears are a pretty shy and solitary species. Humans typically encounter black bears when exploring forested areas like the North Georgia mountains.
Despite being reclusive, black bears are often drawn out of their natural range because they’re attracted to human food and garbage.
Black bears may be encountered if camping sites aren’t cleaned up properly because they have an excellent sense of smell.
Diet and Food Habits
Black bears are omnivores and eat a variety of berries, roots, insects, and small mammals. Their diet mainly consists of seeds, berries, and weeds. Fish and other mammals may be eaten when their preferred food sources are unavailable.
Human activity can alter black bear food behaviors. If they find litter and food scraps left behind by humans, they may frequent these areas for easy scavenging.
When food sources are abundant, they’re less tempted to get close to humans. However, food can become scarce for a number of reasons and this can lead bears to seek out other ways to find food.
Black Bear Hunting and Hibernation Season in Georgia
Hunting season for black bears in Georgia begins at different times depending on the region.
In the North Georgia zone, hunting season typically starts in September for archery. Mid to late October, the hunting season begins for other types of weapons. The season lasts until January.
Central Georgia has much stricter hunting season dates that can vary by year. Specific dates are set for the bear hunting season in southern Georgia. The season typically begins in late September and lasts until mid-October.
Bear activity and sightings become less common in the fall. Around this time, bears prepare for a hibernation-like dormancy.
Even though it’s often referred to as hibernation, black bears don’t hibernate.
They go into a state of dormancy where their activity is reduced and they remain in their den to conserve energy.
They spend late fall and winter in dens. Female black bears give birth to cubs in a den during the early months of hibernation season.
Once spring begins, black bears emerge from their dens in search of food. Home ranges are usually bigger during this time.
Bear Encounters & Attacks in Georgia
Bear sightings are fairly common for Georgia residents that live within the three distinct black bear ranges in the state.
The GNR Wildlife Resources Division released a statement in April 2022 warning residents and visitors of possible bear sightings upon early warm spring temperatures. It’s common for bears to be sighted in the early months of spring.
Male black bear sightings are also more common in late spring and early summer during the breeding season because they’re searching for a mate.
The North American Bear Center states that black bears are most active just before sunrise and throughout the day. They become less active after sunset, but some may occasionally roam around at night.
There are no records of fatal bear attack incidents in Georgia. Since American black bears are fairly shy, they don’t like to be around humans.
The only reason they may wander near humans is for food. Non-fatal attacks are also extremely rare. There’s very little evidence of non-fatal black bear attacks in Georgia.
One event occurred in October 2011 during the bear hunting season in the Okefenokee area. Hunters spotted a black bear in the area and shot it, but the bear was still alive and managed to attack one of the hunters before another hunter killed it.
Instances like this are very rare.
The GNR urges residents and visitors to not interact with black bears, such as feeding them, to prevent changes in their social behaviors.
If you’re exploring the great outdoors in one of the three black bear ranges in Georgia during the early spring and summer, it’s a possibility you might encounter one.
The good news is black bears aren’t naturally aggressive creatures. They can be just as surprised or frightened when they stumble upon people.
Mama bears with cubs can become aggressive if approached because they want to keep their cubs safe. It’s always best to avoid black bears if sighted and give them their space.
Whether you’re visiting the North Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River, Stone Mountain, or the Okefenokee Swamp area, black bear sightings are always a possibility. These creatures, however, generally don’t mean any harm and will go about their way if unbothered.
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Hope this helps!