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Accommodating Both Birds & Bears

3-20 - birds and bears comment IMG_8628In response to my “bears & bird feeders” blog yesterday, a highly respected New England naturalist responded with the following comment, suggesting several ways to have your cake and eat it too. I so endorse his ideas, and especially the reasons behind them, that I am sharing them with my blog readers today.

April to mid- May is perhaps the most food-limited time for birds too. Furthermore, it is my belief that the biggest share of future curious naturalists (and conservationists) are those that grow up in households that feed birds. We NEED those bird feeders out there too! We naturalist types should be thinking about how to bear up and still keep the feeders going. Most of the time, I find that bringing the feeders inside for the night in late afternoon “works”. (I say, like bringing in the cat or the chickens.) We have a “bear resistant” rig here at the Harris Center-a feeding station that is raised and lowered like a flag on a two story flag pole. I know others have found electronic ways of keeping bears away (like motion activated lights), and my friends and neighbors Don and Lilian Stokes are very successful by electrifying their feeding station-just like an apiary. They wish many more people would do so.
Meade Cadot, Naturalist Emeritus, Harris Center for Conservation Education

19 responses

  1. mmwm

    We bring them in at night and put them out in the morning from mid March to May. Started doing it last week when people posted pictures of bears out and about in Hanover NH. This week has been turkey week, with a flock of 14 turkeys feeding on the ground under the feeders in the morning and afternoon. Also had our first junco at the feeder yesterday; hadn’t seen one since 1 December.

    March 21, 2015 at 9:43 am

  2. Laura Craft

    We have success by hanging our bird feeder from the eave of a 2nd story window. There is no possible way for a bear to access.

    March 21, 2015 at 9:47 am

  3. Libby

    Thank you, Mary, for your humility and generosity with this posting. This has been my practice, bringing feeders in at night, for some years….keeping feeders safe pleases me and pleases them and benefits the bears!

    March 21, 2015 at 9:56 am

  4. Vikke Jas

    I have a large bird feeding station, by a brook where we are enjoying visits from a mink, weasels and deer. I bring in the feeders at night as well, but would love some instructions on how to electricify… I have done this with garden and bee hives, but would love some guidance on how to do this for birds!

    March 21, 2015 at 10:39 am

    • I would contact Donald and Lillian Stokes, Vikke, as they have this set-up. They have a website at where you can email them.

      March 21, 2015 at 11:04 am

  5. Cinny MacGonagle

    I hang my feeders from a clothesline on a pulley strung between 2 trees. I just need to lower it to fill them. Keeps the deer from raiding them, too.

    March 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

  6. We also feed during the spring cold; we rarely get bears due to our house being close to a busy route, BUT, we have had them! So, we try to mediate between the birds and the bears by bringing in feeders dusk and putting them out during the day. My question though is this: what do you say to those who do not feed the birds because the seeds dropped on the ground attract voles(althoush most say moles which is inaccurate). That just seems so sad to me. I would rather the voles feasted and tracked up my lawn than deny the birds!

    March 21, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    • I’m with you there, Helen. I guess I would point out that they would be helping to feed a host of wildlife if their spilled seed did attract voles. I’m hard pressed to think of a carnivore or omnivore that doesn’t dine on them…but maybe these people wouldn’t want to attract other wildlife, either…

      March 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm

  7. Bob and Inge

    Dear Mary, thanks for the bear tips! I really hate to think about taking in the feeders already. The overnight removal idea is a good one. But I must tell you that in 2012, on May 12, AT NOON, a black bear walked through all the backyards in this residential neighborhood destroying the feeders (knocking them down).

    By the way, spell it “accommodating”.

    Love you and what you do! Inge

    March 21, 2015 at 1:28 pm

  8. Susan B.

    So good to hear support for continued feeding during these most lean times.

    March 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm

  9. Marcia Hegarty

    BTW, Donald and Lillian Stokes are expert birders and have published many books on specific birds behaviors. I have a couple of them and they are riveting! X O

    March 21, 2015 at 4:06 pm

  10. Kathryn

    I am glad to read this as I couldn’t “bear” the thought of our songbirds and turkeys going hungry after they have been relying on us all winter. Thanks for adding this post.

    March 21, 2015 at 4:08 pm

  11. Kathryn

    A question – what would be the proper thing to do if you were out in the garden, say, and a bear comes by? After the heart attack, should you slowly walk away, make noise or what?

    March 21, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    • It’s advised by the experts to speak calmly and slowly back away…unless you’re like me and then you’d run to get your camera and come back as fast as possible!

      March 21, 2015 at 4:38 pm

  12. We’ve been in the dusk/dawn contingent for several years. Bears, I’m told, have very long memories and remember fine dining spots!

    March 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm

  13. Bruce Curtis-McLane, Jackson NH

    I used the bring-in-the feeders method successfully for years. But last summer bears began coming in the middle of the day, so I very sadly had to give up all feeding till December. In Jackson, NH

    March 21, 2015 at 7:10 pm

  14. I have a set up that has been successful the past couple of years. I attached a dog-runner cable about 20 feet up in the air between two tress spaced about 20 feet apart. I hang two bird feeders as well as a suet feeder from the cable. I have seen claw marks on the trees from a bear climbing to get access to the feeders, but so far it has been thwarted since the cable is so thin and the feeders are about 10 feet from each tree. I duck-taped a hook to an extendable tree limb pole trimmer and use it to take down and put up the feeders. I’d be happy to share a photo or offer more advice to anyone interested in trying something similar!

    March 21, 2015 at 9:14 pm

  15. Jon Binhammer

    Not to be a total curmudgeon on this topic, because I agree that bird feeding leads to greater interest in nature, which leads to conservation, but we really don’t know the true impact of bird feeding on the ecosystem. Sometimes I wonder when I see the 2 dozen chickadees at my feeders, how many nest cavities are out there, and are my fed chickadees competing with other non-fed migrant birds for nesting space? Or insect food resources? Or by feeding my chickadees am I supporting a larger population of bird predators like shrikes that pick them off (and rarer migrants) occasionally? Or what is the ecological footprint of the mountains of black oil sunflower seed – what kinds of pesticides and herbicides are used for this crop, and how much former native prairie land is used for bird feeding? Birds got along just fine before we started feeding them, and while late winter and early spring are lean times, as the snow melts more natural food sources are uncovered for them to feed on, and insects and spiders start to appear.

    What I do is feed birds a limited amount per day, mostly for the joy of seeing them, and when it’s gone, it’s gone (except during extreme cold), and then I take down my feeders when the bears come out and the fox sparrows are scratching at the waste seed on the ground.

    March 23, 2015 at 11:57 am

  16. Cordelia Merritt

    Hi Mary – These are interesting rigs to discourage bear visitors at night.

    BUT!!—-How about those of us who have been visited mid-day?

    Also, how important is it to rake up/ clean up as much as possible under feeders. (My birds are messy and knock off lots of seed.)

    Thanks Cordie

    March 23, 2015 at 12:12 pm

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