27 July 2011
If you live in bear country and you keep bird feeders up all summer, you can expect visitors. I live near the Blue Ridge Mountains and American Black Bears occasionally visit my yard from June through August to forage for birdseed that has dropped from my feeders. They need to settle for seed on the ground because my feeder pole is about nine and a half feet tall. That height keeps the feeders out of reach of the bears, and although they try to climb the pole, a baffle quickly stops them!
It is illegal in Virginia to deliberately attract bears to your property by putting out food for them. In my situation, these bruins are simply cleaning up abandoned food that needs to be fed upon by some animal rather than sitting there to eventually rot. Because birds and other kinds of critters do feed on seed that has fallen, there is never enough left on the ground to keep a big bear around for very long.
Bears eat many kinds of food. I’ve watched a bear eat my Touch-me-not plants as well as the fruits on my Autumn Olive shrubs. They also feed on insects, small mammals, and carrion. Thus even if I had no feeders out, a bear could be expected to wander through looking for any of the aforementioned items.
If your bird feeders are vulnerable to destruction by bears, you should consider not putting them out except when these animals are denning, from mid-to-late fall through winter. Black bears are often said to hibernate but they do not exhibit the main characteristic of true hibernation – a drop in body temperature to within one degree of the surrounding temperature.
Their metabolism does drop substantially, their heart rate decreases from 40 to 50 beats per minute to 8 to 19 beats per minute, and their respiration (breathing) is slowed down to 2 to 4 times a minute, but true hibernation requires an even greater reduction in these functions. As a result, black bears often remain inactive only during the coldest months, whereas a true hibernator will be in a deep sleep most or all of the winter.
A bear does not want to interact with humans so it will not usually come into a yard with people outside. I’ve lived in my home for 25 years and have only seen bears when I’m inside.