For the Birds: Bears among us

Photo by Chris Bosak — Black bears in northern New Hampshire.

Bears are among us. We all know that, of course, but it seems that the bear population throughout New England is thriving, and the large animals are showing up more than ever and in places not seen before. 

My closest call with a bear came about three years when I was jogging through the woods. It was a hilly trail with many twists, turns and curves. Heavy metal music blared through my in-ear headphones. My eyes were trained on the ground to watch for roots, rocks, downed branches and anything else that might trip me up. 

I turned a blind corner and noticed a blur cross before me. I stopped in my tracks, killed the music and looked to my left to see a large black bear sitting next to a tree about 15 feet off the trail. The bear had crossed the trail in front of me and settled at that spot. It was as curious of me as I was of it. Thankfully, it was showing no signs of stress or feeling threatened. It was just kind of there looking at me. 

I looked at the beautiful animal for a minute or two and headed back the way I had come.

Also a few years ago, I was walking into an outdoor Grateful Dead tribute concert and a black bear ran across the parking lot adjacent to the venue. At first I thought it was a person dressed up for the concert. (Dancing bears are a theme in Grateful Dead shirts and posters.) I even got an iPhone photo of the bear as it ran under a concert banner with the colorful dancing bears.

Black bears are the only bears we have in New England. The western U.S. and Alaska have a greater variety with black bears, brown bears (which include grizzlies) and even polar bears if you’re in Alaska. 

Black bears should be respected and treated as the unpredictable wild animals that they are, but attacks on humans by black bears is extremely rare. In fact, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game, the last time a person was killed by a black bear in the state was 1784. 

Which leads to the question most appropriate for this column. When can I feed birds again?

Bears wreak havoc with bird feeders in some areas and many people stop feeding the birds during bear season. The problem is that bear season — not the hunting season but the don’t-feed-the-birds bear season — is the majority of the year. Fish and Wildlife personnel suggest to stop feeding birds from April to December. In other words, only feed birds during the four coldest months. 

I received an email in mid-November asking if it was OK to feed the birds again. It had been cold and even snowed a few times in New England. I replied that it was probably OK to break out the bird feeders. The very next day I happened to be driving in northern New Hampshire and saw three bears in a field. Mama bear stayed close to the wood’s edge, while two cubs frolicked in the field.

So much for bears being in their dens already.

I have personally never had a problem with bears at my bird feeders, so I feed the birds pretty much year-round. I do understand people’s hesitation when it comes to feeding birds and not wanting to attract bears. It’s also not good for bears to become acclimated to free food. 

That said, now that we are well into December, it’s most likely OK to start feeding the birds again. Then again, I’ve been wrong before. 

1 thought on “For the Birds: Bears among us

  1. Wildlife, always so beautiful; as you know is some times scary + must always be respectfully watched out for. In my humble opinion sadly the climate changes seem to be affecting wildlife habits, slowly creating differing choices incldg. hibernation. Even our birds (Cardinals for one), some of which prior to the 80s were not found in our more northern states such as here in NH are now observed routinely here + other northern areas. Very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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