As a black bear (Ursus americanus) awakens from its winter nap it will seek out fresh spring plants to eat, such as those emerging in wetlands. It is an omnivore, and will also eat grasses, ants, bees, honey, fruits and berries, and occasionally small mammals. It will scavenge carrion, such as a deer carcass, and later in the year it will fatten up on the nuts of many hardwoods, especially acorns and beechnuts. But for now, the scent of any possible food source, including your bird feeder, pet’s food dish, garbage can or compost pile is mighty inviting to a hungry bear.
Connecticut’s black bear population has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. What was once a slow movement of bears from neighboring states has evolved into a resident population that breeds successfully in our forests. Most of these bears reside in the northwestern corner of the state, but several sightings have been reported in our area. Consequently, if you live near a forested area, the chances of seeing a bear in your yard are increasing.
With its excellent sense of smell a bear can pick up the scent of a meal from quite a distance. Additionally, a drought year may result in a shortage of natural foods and cause a bear to travel several miles in search of a meal. As a rule, the black bear is a shy animal with a healthy fear of humans. But a hungry bear that finds food close to a human residence can quickly lose its fear and become a real problem. These visitors tend to be young bears recently out on their own and learning the ropes. If one learns that humans provide a meal, whether intentionally or not, it will continue to visit residences in search of an easy meal.
It is vitally important that homeowners take responsibility for removing attractants, such as bird feeders, when a bear begins to visit. Failure to remove the food source may result in a bear making return visits and destroying property. The animal then becomes a “problem bear” in the neighborhood and may regrettably need to be destroyed. Therefore, to protect the bear and your property, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recommends that you:
- Take down your feeders from late March through November. This is the time that bears are active.
- Keep garbage cans in the garage or basement until the day of pickup. (You can also add ammonia to the trash to repel bears and other animals.)
- Store pet and livestock food indoors in sealed containers.
- Do not add meats or sweet fruits to a compost pile. (You can sprinkle lime on the pile to reduce the usual compost scent.)
- Clean and store your backyard grill in a shed or garage when not in use.
- Protect livestock with electric fencing and move into a barn at night, if possible.
- Reinforce beehives or protect with electric fencing.
- Never, never intentionally feed bears.
A bear sighting in your yard can be a thrilling experience if you have taken the proper precautions. You can observe the bear after moving indoors with your children and pets, and wait for it to leave on its own. Or you can make loud noises (banging metal pots together) from a safe distance to scare the bear off. Either way, report your bear sighting to the DEP’s Wildlife Division at 860-675-8130, or their 24-hour hotline, 860-424-3333, or their website.