NatureWatch: What's up with the black bears?


Q: About two weeks ago (early December), our bird feeders were raided by a bear, who not only took the birds’ food, but also did a lot of damage to the feeders.

My husband repaired the feeders and we waited several days before starting to feed the birds again. While we were away for the past three days, (Dec. 20), the bear came back and this time took every last bit of the newly stocked feeders, even ripping a squirrel feeder right off our fence.

Why is the bear out and about in the bitter cold weather?

We live in a regular neighborhood in Dalton. Our yard backs up to an overgrown field and has easy access to Day Mountain.

We were away last week for several days and had loaded up the feeders. The bear returned and took everything, as well as all the feeders from our neighbors’ backyard which abuts ours. Now we are just putting out little feeders each day and taking them in at night.

-- Joe and Patty, Dalton

A: Here in Massachusetts, nearly 6 million people share 5 million acres with native wildlife, and some of this wildlife has adapted well to our presence, even taking advantage of it. Take, for instance, the black bear that now relies heavily on Dumpsters and trash put curbside the night before pickup (a very bad habit!) Some observant bears have discovered pet food left on porches, giving owners a false sense of their pet’s consumption.

Black bears have been dramatically increasing in numbers and range over the past 35 or so years. Today, they are common, especially in Western Massachusetts and require NO help from us! People foolishly putting out food for bears are also putting themselves, their family, and neighbors in danger. It is hard to explain to a 250-pound hungry bear that you are fresh out of kibbles and will get another 50 pounds when you go shopping this afternoon. It is even harder for your family or a neighbor.

As Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (the real managers of wildlife in our state say, "Keep the ‘wild’ in ‘wildlife.’ " Whenever I quote this, I get a couple responses, "Well, what about feeding birds?" My answer is, feeding songbirds rarely, if ever, domesticates them; they remain wild.

Bears are carnivorous omnivores and will eat about anything, but especially relish the protein offered by meat, including grubs, insects, dead animals (carrion). I would imagine, pound for pound it offers more quick energy than skunk cabbage.

To answer your question about what bears are doing about in bitter cold weather, it doesn’t bother them. The main reason bears den up for the winter is lack of food.

For more information on bears, go to: wildlife/living/living_with_bears.htm


News from a bird feeder in Windsor (From Paul B.): Downy (male) woodpecker has now found the feeder and is a regular, as are several hairy woodpeckers. The brown creeper continues to eat from the feeder, climbing the tree till it is at eye level with the feeder and then hopping over. It usually feeds from the lowest ports, using its tail to brace against the bottom of the feeder, as do the woodpeckers. Takes one sunflower heart and hops back onto the tree to eat.

"Stokes Eastern Region" says they will go to feeders occasionally for "chopped nuts," so perhaps this behavior is not as odd as I thought.

[We get] plenty of activity after the storm, increased numbers of chickadees, and red-breasted nuthatches and juncos. Barred owl outside window the other night. Other birds at feeder: American tree sparrow, with its distinctive dark spot, and white-throated sparrow.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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