Brown Bear Behaviors and What They Mean

Share This Article

Ever dreamt of seeing brown bears hunting fish and gorging on fruit and leaves in their natural habitat?

If that’s the case, a trip to Alaska might be a dream come true for you.

Alaska is home to the three species of bears found in North America, including brown bears. In fact, it’s home to a healthy and thriving population of approximately 32,000 – 40,000 brown bears.  Its remote location, thriving vegetation, and abundance of spawning salmon explain why Alaska harbors one of the densest populations of these mighty animals on the planet.

So, if you’re curious to learn more about this incredible bear species, you’re in luck as we’ve gathered below some interesting facts about these majestic creatures.

Alaska Photography Workshop

About Brown Bears

Brown bears can be found in Europe, Northern Asia, Western Canada, and North America. They’re an integral part of the Alaskan scene, and every year, they attract nature lovers, photographers, and curious travelers from all around the world to the land of the midnight sun.

Brown bears and grizzly bears are technically classified as the same species (Ursus arctos). However, brown bears living on Kodiak Island are currently classified as a distinct subspecies (Ursus arctos middendorffi) from bears on the mainland because they have been isolated for 12,000 years, and therefore, they slightly differ genetically.

Brown bears found inland are usually called grizzly bears, whereas bears living in coastal areas where salmon is the primary food source are called brown bears.

While brown bears resemble black bears, they’re usually larger. They also tend to have less prominent ears, a more prominent shoulder hump, and longer claws, making them powerful diggers.

The average spring weight of an Alaskan brown bear is between 800 to 1,200 lb (360 to 540 kg). However, there are documented cases of brown bears reaching 1500 lbs! Males are typically 10% larger than females. The largest brown bears live in Alaska and on offshore islands along the Alaskan coast, such as Admiralty and Kodiak Island. They tend to be bigger than other brown bears due to easy access to fish protein.

Brown bears normally grow to between 1.4 and 2.8 meters.

Some Alaska brown bears have been recorded to live for 34 years in the wild, but usually, males live up to 22 years old and females 26 years old.

Alaska Brown Bear Viewing

Activity Cycle

Most North American brown bears are active during the day, although they can also be active at night during the summer months. Because brown bears spend between five to eight months hibernating, the active season ranges from four to seven months. As a general rule of thumb, the brown bear activity season spans between May and September.

The fall season is critical for the species as this is when they need to accumulate fat and gain significant weight in order to survive winter.

Territory Size and Territorial Behavior

Unlike other species, brown bears don’t defend a territory, and males and females often live on overlapping home ranges. However, they are very protective of their personal space. After all, who can blame them?

Also, it’s important to note that mother bears protecting their cubs can be highly aggressive if they feel like something is threatening their young. They will even kill males to protect them.

Brown bears’ home range depends mainly on the food sources:

– The smallest home range is approximately 200 sq km (77 sq mi) for small males and 100 sq km (39 sq mi) for females in coastal areas where food is abundant.

– When it comes to the largest males of the species, their home range can extend up to a whopping 8,000 sq km ( 3089 sq mi) in the Arctic tundra.

Bears have an interesting cycle of movements throughout the seasons, here are some examples of bear activities through the seasons. 

Spring: during this time, brown bears are usually found in low elevation areas and wetlands where vegetation is growing.

Summer: in summer, the mighty bears can be found in low elevation habitats near river bottoms and high elevation openings looking for berries.

Fall: in coastal areas, brown bears can be found near large rivers as they’re hunting for salmon. Inland they’ll tend to roam alpine areas for berries.

Winter: most brown bears are hibernating in alpine dens.

bears in alaska how to view bears


Hibernation is a critical part of a bear’s life because it allows them to stay alive where there’s very little food available during the colder months of the year.

Brown bears use their powerful paws and long claws to dig into a hillside, near a fallen tree or tall shrubs, to make the den where they’ll spend winter. For their shelters to be comfortable during winter months, brown bears line them with dried moss and grass.

Also, they tend to use the same den throughout their life unless their old den has been critically damaged during winter.

Hibernation is typically spurred by shorter days and the first snowstorm. For instance, in Alaska, most brown bears will be in their den by October, although females hibernate earlier than males. Males emerge from their dens in April or early May, before females. However, while in the coldest part of Alaska, hibernation can last between five to eight months, in some warmer areas such as Kodiak Island, brown bears stay active throughout the year, including winter.

During the winter denning period, pregnant Alaskan brown bear females will give birth to their yearlings. They’ll nurse them until the end of the season so that they can gain weight and prepare to leave the den in the spring.

Brown Bear Asleep

Communication and Social Interactions

Brown bears, adults, and young alike love to play! Some of their favorite games include chasing birds and rolling down snowy slopes. If you’re lucky, you might even spot young bears wrestling and tumbling together.

Brown bears don’t vocalize as much as their cousins, the black bears, but they still release sounds that can be assessed and help you better understand whether you’re in danger or not. Note that not all scary brown bears sounds indicate a threat to you!

For instance, when brown bears chuff like in the video below, that sound like a huff, chomp, woof, growl, or similar to a bark which mean the bear is concerned, agitated, angry or slightly annoyed. Sometimes a prelude to a reaction from the bear resulting in running away or climbing a tree. A bawl, bellow, squeal type sound or whimper indicates pain. A mumble, hum, or almost cat like deep purr indicates contentment.

When they feel threatened, they will raise to full height to better observe the threat. And in this situation, they might also roar or growl. This tends to express fear and apprehension.

When feeling extremely nervous and ready to attack, they’ll release a high-pitched snorting with open lips or snap their jaws together. In all cases you should be aware of the bear and focused on its signals. 

We invite you to read our latest blog on ‘’how to avoid a bear attack in Alaska’s bear country’’ for more information on brown bears and their behavior.

Play Video about Kodiak Photography Workshop

Want To Photograph Brown Bears In Their Natural Habitat?

Join our Alaskan photography workshop for a trip of a lifetime.

During this action-packed trip, we’ll take you to the most amazing spots to observe brown bears in their natural habitat safely and capture some incredible shots of these majestic creatures. And we’ve also planned some exhilarating activities for nature lovers and photographers looking for some fun in this breathtaking land.

We are looking forward to welcoming you aboard this once-of-a-lifetime journey!

Share This Article
Previous Post

How to Stay Safe Around Grizzly Bears

Next Post

Best Camera Settings for Photographing Wildlife

Scroll to top