Bears are out, and they like bird food

Bird feeders attract bear and cubs to second-floor deck

  • In this 2016 photo taken in Rindge, New Hampshire, a bear takes down a bird feeder. Second-floor bird feeders at a South Amherst condominium complex appear to have attracted bears from the nearby Mount Holyoke Range over the weekend. BRAD-HARDY

Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

AMHERST — Second-floor bird feeders at a South Amherst condominium complex appear to have attracted bears from the nearby Mount Holyoke Range over the weekend, with two cubs and a mother bear climbing to an upper-level deck to get the food.

Dave Wattles, black bear and furbearer biologist for the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said people need to remove bird feeders because the food supply is attractive to bears, as well as other animals.

“The number one driver of conflict with bears is bird feeders,” Wattles said. “Any time you have bird feeders bears will continue to come.”

Amherst Police took the first report about a bear intruding onto a deck from a resident at Hampshire Village on Autumn Lane at 8:58 p.m. Friday. The cub, which was making crying sounds as it approached the feeder, left before police got there.

At 10:28 p.m. Friday, residents at the nearby Country Corners Road called police about the same cub sitting beneath a tree and continuing to cry. Two cubs and their mother climbed onto another Hampshire Village deck at 12:02 a.m. Sunday, damaging the lights as they approached the feeders.

That the bears remain active during the cold weather months, and are able to climb, is not a surprise to Wattles, as many bears don’t go into hibernation, and they all learn to climb from an early age. Unlike sows that are pregnant and preparing for denning by early November, a mother bear who gave birth last winter has no need to take refuge from the elements.

“She doesn’t have any reason to den as long as food is available,” Wattles said. “Those that have yearlings can remain active throughout the winter.”

Other than the past week, with temperatures rarely rising above freezing, Wattles said it has been a mild late fall. And the snow pack is not deep enough to slow down the bears’ movements.

People who track bears have discovered that they are increasingly willing to roam distances to find food, going into neighborhoods where they might encounter humans. Wattles said several of the bears that are wearing collars remained active through the late hunting season this fall, with many of these collared bears making unusually large movements and not staying in a specific habitat.

“We think it is due to lack of consistent and reliable food,” Wattles said.

Wattles said there is never a safe time to keep bird feeders out. Once bears get into a routine of finding food in a specific place, they will continue coming until the food is removed.