BLANE KLEMEK OUTSIDE: Taking a break from bird feeders will help keep bears away

Earlier this season, I stopped feeding wild birds because of a hungry bear. After my feeder was destroyed at the end of April, I stopped feeding the birds for two weeks. After this period of time, I then began to feed the birds during the day, but brought the feeder inside at night. I have maintained this routine every day since then.

So what is an avid bird feeder supposed to do in bear country? Put up an electric fence barrier around our feeders? Keep the lights on at night? Switch to different bird seeds? The point is, if a black bear does come and eat your birdseed, your best bet is to stop feeding the birds altogether – or at least for a while anyway.

Yes, removing feeders, seeds, food, hummingbird juice, oriole jam, tallow cakes – what have you – is the best thing to do when a bear visits and doesn’t don’t go. By removing anything that tastes or smells good, there’s a good chance your bear will be gone quickly. Once the food runs out, your friendly neighborhood bear will likely look elsewhere for happier hunting grounds.

When we encounter problems with pest black bears, what we should first ask is, “Why is there a bear in my yard?” Nine times out of ten a black bear goes where its nose “tells” it to go. And where that place is, it’s usually where there’s something good to eat. Sweet water from the hummingbird, oriole food in grape jelly, sunflower seeds in black oil, peanut butter and delicious tallow cakes are delicacies bears cannot resist.

Sometimes, especially when natural foods are scarce, a black bear’s urge to eat can become so overwhelming that some of its natural distrust of people and our homes may be temporarily diminished. And when that happens, bears get in trouble with people. This is why it is recommended to avoid completely feeding the birds from April 15 to October 15.

Despite our love for feeding wild birds, our feathered friends will do very well without our handouts. But if we insist that bird feeding stations be maintained in summer, be aware that it is possible that a black bear will end up in your garden one day. If this happens and you want to continue feeding the birds, there are several things you can and should do.

If you don’t want to stop feeding the birds, consider stopping for at least 10 days to two weeks. Remove all of your feeders, put them in a safe place, and clean any residual seeds or other bird food from the ground or other areas. As soon as one or more bears realize that the food is gone, the bears usually move on.

Despite the potential for declining natural food abundance this season, bears and their populations appear to be doing very well. There are many accounts that people report seeing more bears than maybe in years past. Part of this could be due to the greater number of people living in bear country, but it’s also a strong indication that Minnesota’s black bear population could increase.

As such, learning to live with black bears is important for anyone living and recreating in northern Minnesota. Black bears, while shy and elusive, are blessed with thin noses and large appetites that sometimes put them at odds with humans. Understanding their behavior, coupled with our due diligence to mitigate their actions and natural tendencies, will go a long way in minimizing encounters with bears when we go out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR Wildlife Manager. He can be contacted at bklemek@yahoo.com.


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