The Black Bears of Alligator River – Short Nature Documentary (New Version)

This is a newer version of my old documentary about the American black bears (Ursus americanus) in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The previous version wasn’t as family friendly, so I made this updated version with some bonus footage of other animals species I spotted in the refuge. I’m leaving up the old version of my documentary, if you still want to watch it, but this is the new official Tidewater Teddy episode.


In Dare County, North Carolina, a bastion for American black bears is hidden in plain sight. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge hosts one of the largest concentrations of black bears on the U.S. east coast. In this episode, I’ll go looking for these bears on an American safari.

Getting around the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge is simple. There are multiple dirt roads and tracks that allow you to drive around the refuge’s 150,000 acres, and you don’t even need a 4×4.

The best places to search for bears are around the crop fields and canals. Last time I was here, I spotted an old bear bathing in one of the canals.

So far, no sign of any bears, but other creatures are stirring in the refuge. In the trees, I spy a red-tailed hawk on the lookout for prey. On the ground, I spot a northern black racer, curled up in the leaf litter. I could go on and on about all the other wildlife in Alligator River, but this episode’s all about bears. So it’s time to head for the back roads.

[So I’m out here driving in the backwoods. I’m looking for bears. I don’t really think I’m going to see any bears right here, honestly.]

On the refuge’s back roads, I have not seen a bear, but I have seen their tracks and scat
(their poop) scattered about in the area. In the dense forests, it is much harder to spot a bear, but they’re definitely around. Scanning the dense vegetation, I keep my eyes peeled for movement.

[I don’t know where this goes. I hope this doesn’t go to the bombing range. Last time I followed a road like this, I ended up outside the bombing range.]

[I think I’m lost out here. Let’s, uh, have a look at this sign. Oh crap.]

I hastily make my way away from the U.S. Navy Bombing Range back towards the crop fields. Year round, the bears are drawn to the crop fields, and they—along with lack of hunting pressures and human presence–are likely a primary reason behind the thriving bear populations.

[I just spotted a black bear. It’s wandering out in the middle of this field here. Dawn and dusk, I find, are generally the best times to find these bears. Probably because it’s cooler out, and there’s less people and activity.]

In the spring and summer, the tall fields of grain and other crops make the bears difficult to find. But, after the harvest season, the crops are gone, and the bears are quite easy to spot.

During this time, the hungry bears are foraging for grain left behind by farmers. Black bears are omnivorous, and in Alligator River, they primarily eat plants and insects.

[Well, I think today’s been a pretty successful day. Found a black bear. And actually see another one over there right now. So, if you wanna see black bears on the US east coast, Alligator River Wildlife Refuge is the place to be. Highly recommend it.]

Black bears are territorial, and they are usually seen alone. However, due to the abundance of food in Alligator River, you are likely to see multiple bears in the same area.

According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Virginia Tech (Yeesh–that’s a mouthful), Alligator River’s black bear population is estimated to be between 180 and 293 bears, with about three bears per square mile on good habitat. By comparison, in other good black bear habitats, a normal population is one bear per square mile. That says a lot about Alligator River.

If you see a bear in the wild, keep your distance. Black bears are not nearly as dangerous to humans as brown bears, but they can still be aggressive when threatened or hungry. Like all animals, they deserve respect.

So, on that note, I ride off into the sunset. Obligatory statement about humanity’s negative impact on the environment, and the positive outcomes of conservation. Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints. You get the idea. Blah, blah, blah. Until next time.

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