AYER -- "This is the week when all the bears are out of their dens," said Chalis Bird, Northeast District Wildlife Biologist, when she spoke April 10 at the Ayer Town Hall in a program co-sponsored by the Ayer Library and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.
Groggy at first, the omnivores soon start searching for their spring food: fresh greens and leftover nuts found in wetlands and forests. In summer they switch to insects, grubs, wasp nests, berries, wild cherries and grapes found in early seasonal habitats. By fall they are looking in upland forests and fields for increased carbs and proteins, trying to put on weight for their hibernating winter days.
Black bears historically occupied most of the U.S. By the end of the 19th century, only one small population remained in the Berkshire mountains. Hunting restrictions and the return of the forests have allowed the black bear population to expand its numbers to 5,000 in Massachusetts.
By the year 2000 they were still west of the Connecticut River. MassWildlife radio collar tracking and den studies since 1980 have shown bears gradually moving eastward into unoccupied home ranges, which now put them within the I-495 corridor.
No matter where they live, bear behavior is driven by diet. When food is scarce, they will look for human sources of food. And this becomes the root cause of human-bear conflict. Though generally not bothering vegetable gardens, they find Dumpsters, beehives, chicken coops, and especially bird feeders, to their liking.
Chalis recommended that garbage be locked up, and electric fencing be used around hives and chicken coops. She suggested a small bit of peanut-butter bait on the wire would teach the bears to avoid the area. Bird feeders are problematic, not only for bears, but also, coyotes, foxes, and turkeys.
"Remove the food sources, and they won't be in your yard. We want to make sure bears are living in natural areas and using that food."
Chalis stated it is rare to see a bear in the wild as it is their natural inclination to run when they hear, smell or see humans. If a bear is encountered, humans should never run, but slowly and calmly back away.
People can report bear sightings in the area directly to Chalis.Bird@mass.gov.
-- MARY J METZGER