Bear-proof bird feeder

Readers share a father and son bear-defeating feeder project in Pittsfield.


Good Morning, Mr. Smith:

I have enclosed a picture of our bear-proof feeder that my son and I built and installed this summer. It is constructed of 2- and 3-inch black pipe, sunk 3 feet in cement into the ground. The crossbar is 10 feet off the ground, and it is 8 feet to the bottom of the feeders.

Last winter, we replaced several feeders and poles due to bears not hibernating. We even removed them for several weeks. I have photos of bears standing next to the pole and looking up at the feeders, but no destruction yet. And, the squirrels cannot climb beyond the baffle. We can only hope.

— John and Polly L.

of Pittsfield

My comment: Ingenious. The only change I would have made is by filling a 4-inch, not a 3-inch, pipe with cement. These bruins are persistent, as well as mighty. Keep me informed, and thank you for including Naturewatch on your project.

QUESTIONS FROM READERSQWe were walking through the Boulders this weekend, and I became curious about many trees that were broken 20 or 30 feet off the ground. Is there anything about the physics of trees that makes this a fairly common occurrence?

-– Marietta and James C., Pittsfield

AAs I answered a similar query on Nov. 28, and my answer concerning ash trees remains the same, you are close to the “epicenter” of the invasion that is most likely the cause of your concern. The invasive pest was first detected in Massachusetts in Dalton in 2012! Since its initial discovery, the emerald ash borer has been discovered in at least 11 counties: Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester.

According to The University of Massachusetts Extension Service, “The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a non-native, invasive insect that was first discovered in North America in 2002 in Michigan. It is native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea.”

The sad news is, “When emerald ash borer populations are high, small trees can die within 1 to 2 years of initial infestation, while larger trees may take 3 to 4 years before succumbing to this pest.

I have sometimes been relying on Naturewatch reader, and now friend, Tim of the town of Florida, to point me in the right direction or confirm my suspicions when it comes to forestry issues. Tim’s comment is, “I’m cutting firewood in an area that exhibits a similar condition due to the emerald ash borer killing the white ash trees. Diseased/dead trees usually break apart from the top first during high winds. I don’t know the tree species that were snapped off, but it is prevalent with ash trees. If the trees were healthy evergreens, the top canopy caught some strong winds lately, causing the trunk to snap.”

For additional information, go to:

QThis year, I’ve had some unusual bird behavior. Typically, when I go into the backyard where my feeders hang, all the birds scatter; however, lately that has not been the case. My feeders hang 10 feet off the ground on the eave of a shed and I need a ladder to reach them. In September, I was up on the ladder getting to feeders, when around the shed came a flock of 10 female turkeys. They saw me on the ladder and clustered around it in a tight group until I started backing down the ladder, then they simply parted and allowed me to step off. I could have reached out and patted most of them.

I went to the house, filled the feeders and went to hang them. The turkeys were still clustered around the ladder, again they parted and let me up the ladder to hang the feeders. I know they come almost daily to get the drops from the feeders. I was amazed at their total lack of fear.

Yesterday, I had another surprising experience, when I was climbing the ladder to hang newly filled feeders. Several chickadees came to the feeders in my hands and began feeding as I climbed the ladder!

So here’s my question: I think someone in the neighborhood is hand feeding the birds, my husband thinks after generations of being fed at our feeders, the birds are not afraid of me. My contention with that idea is, I have been feeding birds for 30 years here, why now are they fearless?

Another quick question, do orioles winter here in the Berkshires? I’ve seen a couple in my crab apples.

— Denise T., Washington

AOver time, some wild birds, even turkeys, learn to recognize those who regularly feed them. I would not encourage them to take food from your hand, though. We would not want them to associate every hand they see as having food in it.

Black-capped chickadees are well-known for being impatient when they see a freshly filled feeder. The small flock that comes to our hulled sunflower feeder will sometimes perch above the bird feeder as I rehang it, and on occasion, mimic yours by not waiting for me to let go.

I first learned of this habit of chickadees around 1960 when Norman Budnitz, the late Rick Oltsch and I were birding at Bartholomew’ Cobble in Ashley Falls. We had brought a small bag of striped sunflower seeds with us to hand feed them. As we walked up the main path, a raucous flock of chickadees surrounded us, and we immediately stopped to hand-feed them. It was so exciting! I recall Norm placed a seed between his lips, and a more adventurous member of the flock immediately grabbed the seed as I attempted to, but missed the shot with my 35MM film camera. I, or the shutter, was too slow.

It may be true that someone in your neighborhood is feeding birds by hand. Waldo Bailey, warden at Bartholomew’s Cobble when I was a teenager, enticed the chickadees to lose all fear when they saw an open hand and especially a free hand with sunflower seeds — and maybe frequent visitors to The Cobble also aided in the bird’s fearless approach to seeds either in hand or a feeder.

And, finally, the Baltimore oriole usually arrives around the beginning of May. It leaves between mid-August and October with lingerers lasting into December if food is available, such as fruits like crabapples.