CADILLAC — With the calendar switched to March and winter's grip starting to loosen, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding people now might be the right time to remove bird feeders to prevent unwanted interaction with waking black bears.
As spring approaches, black bears will soon wake from their long winter sleep and start the search for their first nourishing meal of the year. To avoid potential conflicts with bears, it’s a good idea to take down bird feeders and remove other food sources that may attract wildlife.
After leaving their dens, bears look for leafy green vegetation to replenish their bodies after months of hibernation. Given the chance, though, these opportunistic feeders will take advantage of available food sources such as calorie-rich birdseed, garbage cans and pet foods.
“Many of us have enjoyed watching birds visit feeders during the winter months, especially while working from home and sheltering in place,‘ Hannah Schauer, communications and education coordinator in the DNR Wildlife Division said. “But as wildlife become more active in the spring, birdseed can attract more than just birds to your yard.‘
The DNR also reminds people it’s important to keep wildlife visitors at a distance for the safety of the animals and people. To help keep bears and people safe, removing bird feeders now, securing trash cans in enclosed areas and taking in pet foods that may be outside are all good ideas.
DNR Wildlife Biologist Vern Richardson said bears should start to wake up anytime between now and the first of April. Some of when bears wake up is weather dependant. If it ends up being a cold spring, they might not emerge as soon. He also said if the days are in the 40s like we recently experienced, bears will emerge from their dens sooner.
Regardless, he said by mid-April all the bears will be up and active, according to Richardson.
"I don't tend to get (complaints) in February, but certainly by the middle of March, I'm getting those first complaints of bears destroying bird feeders and trash cans," he said.
Richardson said over the last 20 years or so, the black bear population has been expanding its numbers and where they can be found. As a result, he said outlying areas have started to see bears where they didn't before. He said as a result, in places where a person might see only one bear, they now see four.
To help, Richardson said the DNR has increased its harvest rates, so the population surge should be slowing, but only time will tell.
As for bird feeders, Richardson said sunflower seeds are a food source of very high energy. That is why birds like it and why bears love them. This time of year, bears will preferentially eat sunflower seeds over whatever else is out there. Even if a person thinks they are outsmarting a bear by only keeping the birdfeeder out during the day, Richardson said they aren't.
"If your yard smells like sunflower seeds or suet, even if you only have it out during the day and take it in at night, the bear will come and check it out," he said. "If they figure it out, they will show up during the daytime because that is when the food is there."
He said even if a person elevates the bird feeder in a way the bear can't get it, they will still come to your yard. Bears are smart and in most cases, they will figure out how to get to, Richardson said. There are very few ways to keep a bear away from birdseed and Richardson said he hears about more failed attempts, rather than successes.
"That is what they do for a living. Even if you 'outsmart' the bear and elevate the bird feeder and hang where they can't get it, you will still have a bear in your yard because it smells like food," he said. "Potentially, they might be there longer because they are trying to figure out how to get the food."
To learn more about being Bear SMART this spring, visit Michigan.gov/Wildlife or contact the DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.