Vermonters urged to remove bird feeders as bears come out of hibernation earlier than usual

Photo courtesy of John Hall

With black bears waking up from their seasonal slumber earlier than usual, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department officials say it’s time to put bird feeders back into hibernation.

“The department recommends dismantling bird feeders and storing them until December, to avoid attracting bears,” officials said in a news release Monday.

In previous years, the department has recommended Vermonters remove bird feeders by April 1.

But warmer weather expected throughout March “will spur more bears to come out of their dens,” officials said in the statement.

The department began receiving bear reports on its “Living with Black Bears” webpage on March 7.

Attracted to food by smell, bears may also be interested in garbage, open dumpsters, backyard chickens, pet food, barbecues, campsites with accessible food, and food waste, officials said. The press release included several tips on how to prevent bears from accessing food waste, including storing trash in bear-proof containers or structures – “trash cans alone are not enough” – and the request for a bear-proof dumpster from a waste hauler.

The statement also recommends feeding pets indoors as well as using an “electric fence to protect chickens and bees”.

“Preventing bears from accessing human-sourced foods, such as bird seed, is key to successful coexistence,” said Jaclyn Comeau, the ministry’s bear biologist.

Another aspect of successful coexistence with bears is not feeding them.

“Deliberately feeding a bear is not only bad for the bear, it’s also dangerous for you, it causes problems for your neighbors and it’s illegal,” Comeau said.

Putting a bird feeder in the yard doesn’t mean Vermonters have to give up connecting with birds, officials said. They suggested planting native seeds as an alternative.

Photo courtesy of Kris & Norm Senna

“Native plants provide essential food resources for birds year-round and also harbor protein-rich native butterfly and moth caterpillars, the number one food for songbird nestlings. Most importantly, they don’t attract bears,” Gwendolyn Causer, communications coordinator and environmental educator for Audubon Vermont, said in the statement.

Vermont Audubon is partnering with the department throughout this spring to promote alternatives to bird feeders.

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