Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bearing With More Trouble

On Sept. 27, six months to the day after the last incident, I was making supper. It was a Sunday early evening, people were enjoying their backyards with their children or taking a late afternoon walk in the sunshine.

I turned around to see if any cardinals were at the house feeder. I planned to take it in by 6:30 pm ET, 30 minutes from that moment, as I have been ever since a bear came into my yard overnight and destroyed one of my feeder poles trying to get to the sunflower seed.

Well, there was no feeder. I cursed, ran out into the backyard and on the next street, ambling northward, was a black bear, about as big as the one MH and I saw from our car on Old Mine Road in the ridges and forests of Sussex County, NJ.

Old Mine Road bear (RE Berg-Andersson)
This time, the bruin had ignored the sock and the cage-enclosed feeder that were filled with thistle put out for what had become a huge flock of goldfinches. It went for the old house feeder. In pulling it the bear had taken off the wrought-iron arm, too, and MH thinks when it fell it spooked the bear off. The house feeder, which hadn't had that much seed in it at the time, was on the ground but unscathed.

After the last attack, I had taken in the feeders for a while and then it was summer and I put a hanging basket on the remaining pole. Eventually, I had gotten a new feeder pole to replace the broken one. Around Labor Day I had started putting out seed. The dry weather conditions made it hard for birds to find food unless they found my feeder, which many of them did.

So did the bear.

Rosebreasted grosbeak on house feeder,
when the pole still had two arms (RE Berg-Andersson)
I have no idea if this was the same one because I didn't see the bear six months before. That attack was overnight. This one was during daylight, when there were lots of people outside, as I said. While I called 911 to alert the police, my neighbor was atop his grandchildren's playground setup, watching. He gave me a thumb's up. His son told me he had seen the bear rip off the feeder arm and then lope off through my backyard, my backyard neighbor's yard and then to the street. A squad SUV drove up that street after the bear but whether it was confronted or just followed into the next town, I do not know.

My brother-in-law the naturalist in rural NH told me he always waits until the snow falls and the bears go into their dens before he hangs feeders - even if that's in December. His feeders are always inside by April 1.

But he is in rural NH. The migrants have long left there. I was feeding a lot of cardinals, goldfinches and chickadees (along with more annoying house sparrows) because seeding plants were dying and there were no bugs because of the drought. Where I live, it might not snow until February. And my last attack had been before April 1.

What to do?

Predators have always been a problem. Accipiters -- Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks -- and redtailed hawks often haunt the yard. Lately, a cat has been loitering. (It is not feral because it is neat and has a flea collar, but it is not from my street and I have seen it run off through yards across the street and over to another side street, where its owner may live. It doesn't let me get close enough to see any ID tag. I do not understand the old adage about putting out the cat. You don't do that for dogs.)

Cooper's hawk atop feeder (Margo D. Beller)
But I can go outside and chase off a hawk or a cat. When I ran out and saw the bear I realized that had I turned around and run out sooner we'd have been face to face. What would I have done? Would I have been as stupid as the time I went out to chase off a buck in my yard and then quickly backed way when it put its head down intending to charge? In my anger, perhaps.

There are people who love bears so much they would like nothing better than for my neighbors and me to tear down our houses and let the bears roam free, unhunted. That isn't going to happen. Yes, there are houses in areas where they never should've been built, but people are in there now and bears are dangerous. I favor a bear hunt, as I do the annual deer hunt for the same reason - restoring something of a balance.

After a day or so inside, I put the house feeder on the remaining pole arm and put the thistle sock on the other pole. Not having seed outside plus a strong northerly wind seems to have decreased the number of sparrows and goldfinches dramatically to more manageable numbers, thus allowing more of the birds I like to get to the feeders. (We've also had a significant rainfall.)

Is putting out feeders foolishness or an act of faith? I want to feed birds. But I must now be extremely vigilant, at least until a hard winter cold comes. Fool me twice, shame on me. It may not be six months until the next bear encounter.

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