The American Bear Association shared this photo of “Tim,” a black bear cub.

Waking up to the sound of birds singing in the morning can be one of the most relaxing melodies to start your day on the right path. For many of us that means that we try to bring more birds in by placing bird feeders in our backyards. These feeders that draw in birds can also attracted unwanted wildlife. One may be startled to look out their window one morning and see a black bear at the base of their bird feeder.

Black bears have an outstanding sense of smell, one that is seven times stronger than that of dogs. This means that they can smell any type of food source from over a mile away. These food sources can vary from berries, nuts, ant broods, bee hives, and more. However, scientists have found a correlation that in times of food shortage more bears will go after food that brings them in closer proximity to humans, creating ‘nuisance’ bears. These hungry bears will use bird feeders, garbage cans, or anything else that smells edible to fill their hungry bellies. To many people, this causes a problem as they fear for the safety of themselves, their families, and their pets. Although black bears are notorious for being skittish and shy, it is an understandable and avoidable anxiety.

Living in black bear country provides opportunities to observe these normally reclusive animals. However, if you are looking for ways of avoiding visits from bears, there are some guidelines to follow:

  • Since bears have a keen sense of smell, it is important to limit or secure anything that may be odorous. Instead of leaving garbage cans outside, store them in a secured building. Rinse any empty food containers and wrappers before recycling them or tossing. Avoid placing odorous materials in garbage until pick-up day.
  • Bring bird feeders in at night or hang them out of reach of bears - at least 10 feet in the air - on wire suspended between two trees. During the months of July through October black bears enter into hyperphagia. Hyperphagia is the point in which the bears are eating copious amounts of food in preparation for their winter hibernation. It is recommended that to avoid any human and bear interactions, that bird feeders are taken down during these months. 
  • Pet food, barbecues, composts, gardens, insects and more may also bring in some unwanted visitors. When feeding pets outside, it is recommended that food containers and food bowls be stored inside, as well as removing uneaten portions.
  • Grease and food caught in barbecue grills or burn barrels can attract bears. Cleaning grills and barrels regularly; then disposing of grease as you would garbage can help to keep curious noses away. Do not bury, pour out, or discard grease and food particles in the yard, as it will eventually be detected. Store grills and burn barrels in secured areas.
  • Locate gardens, orchards, beehives, compost piles and pet cages in secure areas away from protective cover used by bears like forest, thickets or natural pathways. Electric fences are effective deterrents. 
  • Pick fruits and vegetables regularly as they ripen or be prepared to share. Remove and properly discard any produce that has dropped to the ground.
  • Bears naturally seek insect larvae (ants, yellow jackets, wasps) as well as various seeds and nuts stashed by rodents. They will dig in search of these food sources. To avoid potential property damage, remove insect nests from walls and rodent-proof any outbuildings. 
  • Experiment with deterrents such as barking dogs, motion lights, various noisemakers and consider using them in problem areas. Be creative but always keep the safety of humans and bears in mind. Should a bear wander through your yard, he may be passing through, or he may smell a potential food source. If he is not rewarded with food, he will move on. However, if he finds food he will return repeatedly until he is convinced there is no longer the possibility of more food. 

If you have more questions or if you are having a difficult time keeping a bear from your home please reach out to your local rehabilitation centers, wildlife rescue organizations or sanctuaries for more information.

The American Bear Association, a 501©(3) non-profit, which operates the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, was formed in 1995 and is dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the black bear through education and observation. Thousands of people visit the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary viewing platform every year to observe and learn about black bears from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Hours of operations are from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. For more information visit the website at www.americanbear.org.

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