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Bear Scat: How to Identify Poop from the Most Common Species

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:USDA NRCS

Here is how to identify bear poop during your outdoor adventures.

If you are like us, you likely spend a great deal of time in the great outdoors. Whether you are a hunter, a hiker or a fisherman, it is a good idea to know your animal poop, especially bear scat. Because recognizing that a bear may be in the area can help you avoid unwanted nasty encounters with a large bruin.

The quicker you can spot it, the better prepared you will be. Fortunately, it is easy to spot.

We will also help you differentiate black bear and grizzly scat from other common forms of droppings  found in the woods like mountain lion and coyote scat.

What does black bear scat look like?

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:Cephas

One thing we should make clear is the fact that while bears are largely thought of as predatory animals, they are omnivores and much of their diet is made up of plants, especially in the spring and early summer. Black bear droppings are usually tubular in shape and can range from four to 12 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter. Unlike other forms of animal scat, the appearance varies greatly depending on the food source the animal was utilizing, but it is usually black or brown in color.

In the spring when the bears are freshly out of hibernation, they feed extensively on grasses. This results in dark brown or even green scat that is uniform in appearance and often does not smell. If you break the droppings apart with a stick you may find insect parts in there as bruins regularly consume them for a little extra protein. If a bear is feeding on blueberry or other natural wild forage like chokecherry, the berry scat may take on the color of the forage. A bear that has been feeding heavily on berries may also have obvious berry seeds in their poop.

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:Fred Bauder

The example photo above shows the scat from a bear that was feeding on apples in Colorado. The droppings take on a light brown or reddish orange appearance. The other giveaway this bruin was eating apples is simply all the seeds that you see there. One other thing we should note here is that bear scat often has no smell or a slightly sweet or even what some describe as a "fermented smell" if the animal has been exclusively hitting the salad bar.

Most bear scat only tends to stink once they start eating meat. In this case, you should see obvious bones and hairs in the scat that the bear's stomach did not digest.

What does grizzly bear scat look like?

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:USDA NRCS

We are sure you have heard the old joke about the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat. It goes something like "Grizzly bear scat smells like pepper and has little bells in it." The obvious joke being that the grizzly ate the hiker who tried to defend themselves with bear spray. In truth, grizzly bear scat is nearly identical to black bear scat because of the similarities in digestive systems. The only real difference is in the size.

For a grizzly bear, the scat may be longer and wider, up to 2-2.5 inches in diameter. Again, seasonality plays a big factor with the appearance. In the early spring you are more likely to see a dark green coloration from consuming grasses. As the season goes on you might see more a black, brown or even reddish coloration depending on the types of food they are eating.

The consistency of bear scat can also change depending on their diet. For instance, a bear feeding on fish, as many grizzlies are apt to do, might leave scat that is quite watery in appearance. To the point where it resembles a bison or cow pie. A closer examination should reveal smaller bones, insects and other tell-tale signs that the animal that left it was not a total vegetarian. Note that in the image above, you can clearly see some hairs from an animal this grizzly ate.

In some places, like Yellowstone National Park, grizzlies have developed unique diets where they feed extensively on moths in the late summer. Almost every nature show ever has showed these animals hunting for them. Keep specialized diets based on location in mind. So, if you are in Yellowstone and see some giant poop with moth parts in it, you will want to at the least be wary of bears in the area. Likewise, if you are in Alaska and start seeing huge diarrhea-looking piles, there may be a grizz nearby.

How do you tell bear poop from other types in the woods?

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:NPS Photo

The wilderness is wild for a reason, there are tons of other species out there roaming around. This includes lots of predators. Some scat can closely resemble that of a bear. Here are some of the tell-tale signs of other species. For bobcats and mountain lions, their droppings are always going to have hair and bones in it because they are exclusively predators. Look for segmentation too. If you are looking at something that looks like an oversized version of what your cat leaves in the litter box, odds are it is not a bear.

It is the same thing for wolf and coyote droppings. If you break it apart with a stick, it should be obvious if the animal was exclusively a predator or not. Wolf and coyote poop often looks like the leavings of a domestic dog and you should notice a smell too.

Some confusion can arise with raccoon droppings because they are also omnivores and seeds and other plants can be found in their poop. The good news is that the size can be an immediate giveaway, as is the presence of multiple piles of feces. Raccoons use communal sites called latrines to do their business. If you see a lot of small piles close together, odds are you are dealing with raccoons. Oh, do not touch raccoon feces. It carries parasites that can be deadly to humans. Fortunately, that is not the case with bears.

Bear Scat
Wikimedia Commons:Fred Bauder

For bear poop, just remember that it is always going to be quite large and if you pull it apart with a stick, you are likely going to see a variety of different items inside. If you are seeing insects, grass, seeds and hair, odds are it is a bear with a well-balanced diet. Another dead giveaway you are dealing with bear poop is if you find man-made objects like plastic bags or candy wrappers in it like you see in the photo above. Odds are the bear raided a campsite or dug through a garbage can to get that tasty snack. Finding something like this is rare, but it can happen if people are not properly securing their food or trash.

By learning to recognize bear scat, you can take extra precautions in your outdoor adventures to enjoy an encounter with a bear safely, from a distance!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

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Bear Scat: How to Identify Poop from the Most Common Species