Shenandoah National Park Black Bears
Black Bears are normally silent animals. In the woodlands, you will rarely hear a bear make a noise unless you are distinctly listening for clues of their whereabouts. They walk very quietly and they climb trees quietly and quickly. They aren't very vocal either but they will emit any of several different sounds when they have a reason to communicate.
Black Bears will make blowing noises (also called woofing or huffing) and clack their teeth (also called jaw popping) when they are agitated or feeling nervous. The woofing sound is actually an air noise (inhaling and exhaling a number of times in rapid succession). In some situations, Black Bears will make a moaning sound or a loud snort when they are frightened or angry. They also make bawling sounds, but bawling happens primarily with cubs (watch the below video clip) although an adult bear may bawl loudly if it is badly injured.
A cub making bawling sounds
When you hear a Black Bear vocalizing with woofs, snorts or jaw popping, it is basically letting you know that it does not feel comfortable with your presence. This should be considered as a warning from the bear that you are too close and/or it is nervous, and sometimes this behavior can provoke defensive behaviors such as bluff charging or the slapping of one or both front feet on the ground. In any of these instances, you should always back away s-l-o-w-l-y and give the bear lots of room. Bears need escape routes to feel comfortable. These sounds and behaviors are expressions of their apprehension towards you. In my early beginnings around black bears, I learned to interpret their sounds in terms of their fear and learned that behavior I thought was threatening was really expressions of their own apprehension.
A male bear woofing and jaw popping
I personally have only heard a bear snort once, it was a mother bear who became agitated at me one evening as I tried to get closer to her for a better photo. It was a high pitched shrieking sound, sort of like a Whitetail Deer snort but had much more of a 'whistle' sound.
As for Black Bears growling, they don't - according to many bear experts and bear biologists. It is actually the moan of fear sound which is a deep throated vocalization. Growls are rare or absent in Black Bears. In over 40 years of capturing, observing, and confronting bears, the North American Bear Center have yet to hear their first growl.
Another adult Black Bear vocalization is a motor-like pulsing sound. This is very definitely a sound of aggression and usually occurs between bears in some type of standoff. This is a rather strange sounding vocalization (click on the Play button below).
Sound byte courtesy of North American Bear Center
Click here to watch a short video of 2 adult boars making this sound while fighting.
Female Black Bears will communicate with their cubs with grunts. Cubs will bawl loudly when in distress and make a purring type of sound while they are nursing. Cubs can also moan, jaw pop and woof (watch below video clip).
A cub woofing and moaning (Note: windy conditions)
For more black bear photos, information and video clips, visit the Black Bears section of my Web site.