Black Bear

Marking Trees

Ursus americanus

  Black bears mark trees in a variety of ways. Learn how to
identify these trees in the photos below. 


bear rubbing on tree

Black bear rubbing his back on a marking tree. Still photo from video from my trail camera.

tree marked repeatedly by black bears

This black bear marking tree was leaning over and had the sign of numerous visits by the bear. There were bite and claw marks in the bark. There was fur snagged on the bark and on broken-off branch stubs. This tree appears to have been used long-term by the bear as a scent marking location. Such trees are often located adjacent to well-used travel routes, or near bear beds or dens. Mark trees may be within sight of each other. Trees used for marking often have a lean.

redwood tree with bark removed by black bear

This redwood tree was stripped of its bark so a bear could use the bark for nesting material. The bear shredded the bark and made a mattress out of it, using it for a bed. Redwood trees have very straight-grained wood and the bark peels in strips like this easily. The bear simply had to claw its way to the cambium layer, grab hold, and peel. Who knew trees peeled like bananas?

black bear claw marks at base of redwood

The lower section of the redwood tree seen in the photo above. Here, you can see some scratch marks left by the bear's claws in the tree's wood.

me standing next to a bear marking tree

The bite and scratch marks left by the bear on this small redwood tree are about as high as I can reach. I estimate them to be 6.5 feet off the ground.
bear clawing tree
Night view of bear marking on a tree. Still photo from video.
bear scratching his back on a tree
Male black bear scratching his back on a marking tree.
black bear marking a tree and looking around
Black bear pauses in marking a tree by rubbing his back on it.
bear sniffing marking tree
Black bear sniffing at marking tree
close up of bear marking tree

This is the tree that the bear in the photos is marking on. The marks are of various ages. The bears have been using this tree for marking for several years.

black bear habitat with marking tree in center
                    of photo
Black bear habitat with the marking tree in the center of the photo

bear fur snagged on a branch

When you look closely at a bear's marking tree, you will find bear fur snagged in the bark and on protruding branches, like this one.

clump of bear fur rubbed off on a tree

This large clump of black bear fur was snagged on a sharply protruding broken branch. Black bears rub their backs on trees to help remove their winter coat, and also to leave scent to communicate with other bears.
bear mark tree on pine

This bear mark tree was on an old pine that had died back. It stands in the middle of a clearing, making it an ideal mark tree for bears since it attracts the attention of passing animals. I installed a trail camera to monitor animal activities at this tree and discovered that a bobcat regularly marked this tree with scent too!

redwood tree extensively marked by bear

This redwood tree shows extensive use by a black bear. The bear has been biting and clawing the tree and shredding the bark. All this sign is a way of communicating with other bears.

pine tree marked by bear

An old pine tree showing bite and claw marks left by a black bear. Older damage is seen below the fresh marks where the bark is darker. This tree bears many scars of repeated use by bears. My trail camera at this site documented at least two different bears using the same tree. A bobcat also marks on this tree!

bear marking on redwood

A redwood tree showing lots of bear activity. The marking here has caused a lot of damage to the tree but it is still living. Redwoods are very durable and this amount of damage has not killed the tree.

black bear mark tree and stomp trail

This overall view shows the tree seen in the photo above this one. Look closely at the ground approaching the tree (from lower right) and you will see the stomp trail left by the bear. Black bears stomp their feet and sort of grind them into the ground as they approach their mark trees. This leaves scent from glands on the feet. The lives of wild animals are all about scents and communication. They use scent to communicate in many ways. Quite a few animals have glands on their feet that they use to deposit scent in various ways. 

bear scratching on tree

The next few photos show this bear enjoying a really good back scratch on the little pine tree.

bear rubbing its back

Bears need to shed their winter coats before summer gets too hot, so rubbing on trees also helps loosen the longer winter coat and shed it. This activity also deposits scent on the tree that other bears investigate. This helps them find mates and avoid conflicts.

bear back scratch

This particular bear has six mark trees that I counted in two miles of his trail. He very likely has others within his range that I have not discovered yet.

Douglas fir marked by bear
Douglas fir tree showing marking behavior by a black bear.
bear bites and marks on Douglas fir tree

Close up showing the bite and claw marks on this Douglas fir. The sap oozed out after the tree was wounded.

bear mark tree by road

The bear's marking tree at the edge of a dirt road. Marking trees are often on travel routes that the bears use frequently.

overview of bear mark tree by dirt road
The location of a bear's marking tree at the edge of a dirt road.
straddle marked sapling marked by bear

This small fir sapling was knocked over and urinated on by a bear who was straddle marking in the forest.

branches broken by bear

The branches of this small redwood were broken off and twisted over to one side by the black bear.

bite and claw marks on redwood
Bite and scratch marks in redwood bark made by a black bear
redwood bark shredded by black bear

The bark of this redwood was shredded by a black bear who used the material for bedding. Redwood bark is soft and insulates well.

Redwood tree showing marks where it was bitten and scratched by a black bear.
fir sapling bitten off by bear

This small Douglas fir sapling was bitten off and broken at the top by a black bear. Bears will not only scratch and bite larger trees, but they will bite the tops off smaller trees. No one is sure why they do this. It could be a territorial advertisement, a way to stake their claim. Or it could simply be a way to advertise their presence to other bears. A bear's way of saying, "hey, I am here."

black bear claw marks from climbing a tree

This set of claw marks was made by the left hind foot of a black bear as it climbed a Douglas fir tree. The bear used its front legs to wrap around the tree, digging in with the claws and pulling itself up. The hind feet dug into the lower trunk of the tree to propel the bear upward. That was how these claw marks were produced.

claw marks left by climbing bear
Claw marks left by the right hind foot of a black bear that climbed a Douglas fir tree.
claw marks left by bear that climbed tre

The two sets of claw marks from the close-up photos above. The bear left marks further up the tree from the front paws gripping the bark.

To see black bears in action, marking on trees in their territory, visit my YouTube channel:

The videos on my YouTube channel come from trail cameras I have set up in the woods to show black bears in their natural habitat, doing what they do when no one is watching. Enjoy!
Other Black Bear Pages on this site:
Go to the Black Bear Scat Page
or Black Bear Scat Page II
Go to the Black Bear Feeding Signs Page
or Black Bear Main Page

More Black Bear Tracks and Signs
Black Bear Dens and Beds
Black Bear Trails and Stomp Marking
Black Bear Tracking Videos
Black Bear Cub Tracks
Live black bear den cams:
Not hosted on this site, but great black bear page
from the North American Bear Center:
Lily the Black Bear
Jewel the Black Bear
Opens in a new window. Follow along as Lily and Jewel raise cubs!
These web cams provide a look inside a wild bear's den, LIVE!
Watch cubs being raised and cared for in real time and learn more
about bears than ever possible before.
Rare glimpses into the lives of wild black bears.



prints prints

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Copyright 1997, 2010, 2018. Text, photos, videos, and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design

Page updated: March 18, 2018

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