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What do you do if you have a Black Bear at your bird feeder?

From the N.H. Audubon’s “Ask the Naturalist” series adapted for Massachusetts.

You glance out your window on one of those marvelous April days that makes it clear that spring will indeed come, only to find your feeders hanging askew or smashed to the ground and your metal suet holders looking like wrung-out dishcloths. Like an increasing number of households in the northwest region of Massachusetts, you have been visited by a black bear.

When black bears leave their dens in mid-April they have been without food for five-and-one-half months. They are hungry and capable of sniffing out edibles within a 2-mile radius, and birdseed is a temptation they just cannot resist.

Bears that discover that birdfeeders and trash cans are an easy food source quickly lose their natural fear of humans and learn to rely on people for food, thereby becoming public nuisances. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid this situation.

To prevent conflicts between humans and bears, the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife Department recommends that bird feeders be removed as soon as the snow melts or by April 1, and that all seed be cleaned up below feeders.

The only way it may be possible to continue to feed the birds is by hanging a feeder totally out of reach of a bear, such as one placed in the middle of a line rigged 10 feet above the ground between trees or posts, or one high up on the end of a tree branch that cannot support a bear’s weight. In both cases the use of a pulley system will make filling the feeder easier. Please be advised that any feeder will potentially be discovered by the black bear’s highly-evolved sense of smell and may need to be taken down.

If you choose to stop feeding birds in April, the question arises as to when to begin again. Bears are around in the fall as long as apples, acorns, corn and other natural food sources are available for them.

After a few hard frosts, or during the fall hunting season, they begin to den. The timing varies from year to year so it is best to decide when to resume bird feeding by keeping track of the weather and food availability. But if you really want to feed the birds, then plant a variety of flowers and shrubs in your yard that attract birds and only put up your bird feeders in the winter months.

There are a few other guidelines to help keep bears from becoming a problem. If you compost, avoid putting any meat or leftovers in the pile. Keep garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or storage area, and set out garbage for pickup on the morning of collection and not the evening before. Also, clean outdoor grills after each use, or store inside.

Some people are so thrilled to see bears that they intentionally feed them to keep them around. Fight this impulse and do all you can to discourage your neighbors from taking this route. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of confronting a neighbor, call the Massachusetts Fish and Game offices to intercede. Bears that are fed by people lose their fear of them and are apt to become the kind of wildlife problem that necessitates their being destroyed. For the bear’s sake, encourage it to remain wild and free.

All of these responsible actions will help to ensure a peaceful coexistence of mutual benefit to both Massachusetts residents and black bears. You can find a wealth of information about bears at the following link www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/dfw_bears.htm. If you need further advice about bear problems please contact Jim Cardoza of Mass. Fish and Game at (508) 389-6323 or Pat Huckery at the Fish and Game northeast regional office at (978) 263-4347 Monday through Friday during normal business hours.

“Stewardship Matters” is a biweekly column sponsored by the Stewardship Committee of the Squannassit & Petapawag Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs). We invite the public to submit articles on topics relevant to the environmental, historical, and cultural resources of these ACECs for publication in this column. Visit our website at www.squannassit.org, or contact us at info@squannassit.org.

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