The Birds and the Bears by The MRV Bear Initiative
Many of us in the Mad River Valley eagerly put out bird feeders late in the fall hoping to attract a multitude of feathered visitors over the winter. It is a joy to watch the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, finches and more, busily flying back and forth on a cold, snowy day.
However, there is one visitor to our feeders we don’t want! Black bears have a keen sense of smell and are readily attracted to our backyards by a multitude of odors and being able to access food easily is a big attractant. The bird food we put out (sunflower seeds and suet especially) is high in protein and fat and bears see this as a high calorie and easy food source. This readily accessible food acts as a ‘reward’ for the bears and they will often come back for repeat visits.
And yes! Bears are attracted to your yard by hummingbird feeders too. If you love watching the frenetic activity and spectacular plumage of Ruby-throated hummingbirds, chances are you will be putting out a feeder over the summer. Imagine what a reward it is for a black bear to find a glass of sugar water on a nocturnal ramble. And to then find the glass refilled with the sweet treat on the next night’s visit!
What Can You Do To Be More Black Bear Aware?
- Do not put your bird feeders up until December 1st.
- The exact dates that bears enter their dens can vary greatly depending on availability of natural food, snow cover, and temperature.
- As a general rule, plan to take down your feeders by April 1st.
- As in the fall, the date that bears emerge from their dens in the spring varies depending on food availability, weather severity, and the presence/absence of cubs.
- Don’t worry! Birds will easily find natural food sources such as seeds, berries, and insects.
- If we get a late season cold snap or snowstorm, you can always put your feeders back out for just a couple of days.
- If possible, try to keep the area below your bird feeders as clean as possible.
- Birds are messy eaters and end up spilling a lot of seeds onto the ground. Keeping seed build up to a minimum will help prevent unwanted visitors.
- Don’t store bird food on your porch, in your entryway, or in a shed that is not bear proof.
- Bears are very intelligent and will work hard to get a good food reward.
- One 7-lb bag of bird seed contains 12,180 calories!
- Please consider moving your hummingbird feeders and your bird feeders inside every night to stop the bears from getting used to these easy treats.
- This won’t stop the bears from visiting in the daytime, but it will help with those unwanted night visits.
- If you do get a bear visiting your feeders, keep the feeders inside for several days before putting them outside again.
- Visit https://www.audubon.org/PLANTSFORBIRDS to learn more about planting flowers and shrubs that will attract hummingbirds and other birds to your yard and garden.
- Learn more about Bears, and Living with Bears on the VT State Fish & Wildlife website: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/vermont-critters/mammals/black-bear and https://vtfishandwildlife.com/node/256
- The VT Agency of Natural Resources also provides guidance on bird feeders for our region. https://anr.vermont.gov/node/1140