Brown Bear Photos
Search hundreds of brown bear and grizzly bear photos on this site and license them as stock photos or purchase as fine art display pictures for home or office decor. The photographs were taken throughout Alaska’s interior, coastal, Arctic, and Kodiak Island regions. Search the links below, browse a gallery, or use a keyword search (top right) for a more specific query.
- Brown bears of the coast
- Brown bears of Katmai National Park
- Grizzly bears of Denali National Park
- Grizzly bears of the arctic
Formerly, taxonomists listed brown and grizzly bears as separate species but the are now considered the same species. The term “brown bear” is commonly used to refer to the members of this species found in coastal areas where salmon is the primary food source. Brown bears found inland and in northern habitats are usually called “grizzlies.”
Brown bears on Kodiak Island are classified as a distinct subspecies from those on the mainland because they are genetically and physically isolated. The shape of their skulls also differs slightly. In this discussion, brown bear is used to refer to all members of Ursus arctos.
The brown bear resembles its close relative the black bear, Ursus americanus. The brown bear, however, is usually larger, has a more prominent shoulder hump, less prominent ears, and longer, straighter claws.
Both the prominent hump and the long claws of the brown bear are adaptations that are related to feeding behavior. The long claws are useful in digging for roots or excavating burrows of small mammals.
The musculature and bone structure of the hump are adaptations for digging and for attaining bursts of speed necessary for capture of moose or caribou for food.
Color is not a reliable key in differentiating these bears because both species have many color phases. Black bears, for example, occur in many hues of brown, and even shades of blue and white. Brown bear colors range from dark brown through light blond.
Bear weights vary depending on the time of year. Bears weigh the least in the spring or early summer. They gain weight rapidly during late summer and fall and are waddling fat just prior to donning. At this time most mature males weigh between 500 and 900 pounds (180-410 kg) with extremely large individuals weighing as much as 1,400 pounds (640 kg). Females weigh half to three-quarters as much. An extremely large brown bear may have a skull 18 inches long (46 cm) and 12 inches wide (30 cm). Such a bear, when standing on its hind feet, is about 9 feet (2.7 m) tall.
Brown bears have been known to live 34 years in the wild, though this is rare. Usually, old males may reach 22 years. Old females may live to 26. Brown bears have an especially good sense of smell and under the right conditions may be able to detect odors more than a mile distant. Their hearing and eyesight are probably equivalent to that of humans. When bears stand upright, it is not to get ready to charge but to test the wind and to see better.
Mating takes place from May through July with the peak of activity in early June. Brown bears generally do not have strong mating ties. Individual bears are rarely seen with a mate for more than a week. Males may mate with more than one female during breeding season. The hairless young, weighing less than a pound, are born the following January or February in a winter den.
Offspring typically separate from their mothers as 2-year olds in May or June. Following separation, the mother can breed again and produce a new litter of cubs the following year. In some parts of Alaska, research results reveal that offspring may not separate from their mothers until they are 3 to 5 years old. This appears to be most common in areas where food is scarce. In some of these areas, females may skip one to three years before producing new litters.
Bear populations vary depending on the productivity of the environment. In areas of low productivity, such as on Alaska’s North Slope, studies have revealed bear densities as low as one bear per 300 square miles. In areas teeming with easily available food, such as Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska, densities as high as one bear per square mile have been found. In central Alaska, both north and south of the Alaska Range, bear densities tend to be intermediate, about one bear per 15-23 square miles. These are average figures which should not’t be interpreted to mean that each bear has this much territory for its exclusive use. The area occupied by any individual bear may overlap that used by many other individuals.
All brown bears should be treated with respect and can be safely observed only from a distance of at least 100 yards. This is especially true for family groups of a female and her offspring as mother bears are very protective towards their young. Bears protecting a food source, such as the buried carcass of a moose or caribou, should also be treated with special caution.
In bear country, campers can best avoid conflicts with bears if they minimize food odors, store their food out of a bear’s reach and away from their camp, and avoid camping on bear travel routes.
Like humans, brown bears consume a wide variety of foods. Common foods include berries, grasses, sedges, horsetails, cow parsnips, fish, ground squirrels, and roots of many kinds of plants. In some parts of Alaska, brown bears have been shown to be capable predators of newborn moose and caribou.
They can also kill and consume healthy adults of these species and domestic animals. Bears are fond of all types of carrion as well as garbage in human dumps.
Except for females with offspring and breeding animals, bears are typically solitary creatures and avoid the company of other bears. Exceptions to this occur where food sources are concentrated such as streams where bears can catch salmon swimming upstream to spawn. At McNeil River Falls, the largest concentration of brown bears occurs annually. Biologists have observed more than 60 bears at one time, attracted by spawning salmon.
Grizzly bear in the fresh winter snow in Atigun canyon, Brooks range, Alaska (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)
Winter dormancy: In the winter when food is unavailable or scarce, most Alaska brown bears enter dens and hibernate through the winter.
Research and conservation
Because Alaska contains over 98 percent of the United States population of brown bears, and more than 70 percent of the North American population, it has a special responsibility for this large carnivore. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for managing bears in Alaska and for ensuring that management is based on scientific knowledge of the biology of bear populations.
Important components of this management effort include maintaining healthy populations of bears throughout Alaska, preservation of bear habitat, prevention of over harvest, and conducting the studies necessary to understand population requirements. As Alaska continues to develop, it is increasingly important for the public to recognize that maintaining sufficient amounts of habitat for brown bears to continue to thrive in Alaska will mean forgoing opportunities for some kinds of economic development in some places.
Text adapted from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Notebook Series
Text: Sterling Eide and Sterling Miller
Revised by Harry Reynolds and reprinted 1994