Andrew Timmins: (603) 788-3164
Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
April 7, 2008

Take Your Birdfeeders Down -- or Risk Letting Bears Do It For You

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire bears are waking up and heading out in search of food to replenish fat reserves depleted during the long winter denning period.  Natural foods are somewhat scarce this year, so it's especially important for homeowners to take action now to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home.  Reports are coming in from nearly every county in the state indicating recent bear activity.  "The first thing you need to do is take down your bird feeders," says New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins, explaining that bears are attracted to this nutrient-rich, easily accessible food source.

"By late March, many New Hampshire residents had emailed pictures of bears and bear tracks in the snow around their bird feeders," Timmins said.  "Bears remember areas with important feed from year to year.  It is how they adapt to periods of low food abundance.  Given that sunflower seed is more nutritious than most foods a bear will find in the woods, it is easy to understand why some residences get visited by bears every spring.  Don't be fooled by the fact that several inches of snow still cover the ground across much of the state; snow depth has little influence on when bears decide to emerge from winter dens."

During the denning period, bears typically lose 25% of their body weight, and a lactating female with newborn cubs may lose as much as 40%.  The greatest nutritional stress on a bear comes one to two months after they come out of their dens.  The statewide black bear population is considered relatively stable -- thanks to careful management by Fish and Game -- and is currently approximately 4,600 bears.

"This spring will likely be more difficult on bears compared to spring conditions during the past couple of years.  Nut production by American beech trees was very poor last fall, and acorn production from oaks was spotty at best.  These represent important  spring foods for bears throughout the state.  Additionally, the deep snow that remains across much of the state likely will delay spring green-up, therefore creating a shortage of natural foods.  Leftover hard mast and herbaceous vegetation are the primary foods used by bears during spring.  The fact that these food sources are absent will increase the chances of having a foraging bear visit your yard, unless homeowners take precautions," Timmins said.

Homeowners should take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home.  Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:

  • Stop all bird feeding by April 1 or as soon as snow melts.
  • Clean up any spilled birdseed and dispose of it in the trash.
  • Secure all garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or adequate storage area, and put garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.
  • Avoid putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
  • Don't leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
  • Clean and store outdoor grills after each use.
  • Finally, never intentionally feed bears!

These steps will help to ensure that your backyard does not become attractive to bears and other wildlife, which is important because it prevents property damage by bears and because it keeps bears from becoming nuisance animals.   

"The surest way to mitigate bear/human conflicts is to keep your yard free of attractants.  You may need to take additional steps to protect items that can't be removed.  For example, dumpsters should have a locking metal top that prevents access by bears, and beehives and livestock should be protected with an electric fence.  To avoid bear-related conflicts, prevent bears from visiting and, most of all, from getting in the habit of finding food on your property," said Timmins. 

For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, click here.

If you have questions about bear-related problems, you can get technical advice by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, located in Concord, N.H., at the following toll-free number: 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).

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