Saturday, October 24, 2009

The tidy bear

Back in the spring, my 11-year record of feeding the birds 24/7/365 came to an abrupt end, when I awoke one morning to find my feeders ravaged. My fault: We live in bear country, though we've never seen one, and nothing, not even a raccoon, has ever touched my compost pile or garbage cans, and deer walk right by my vegetable garden.

OK, I learned. I repaired or replaced the three feeders and have brought them in at sunset every night since. Well, not quite every night . . . I forget now and then. And 5 weeks after the first incident, the same thing occurred.

That first time, the bear demolished the hanging tube of nyjer seed (leaving a big footprint in the soft soil beneath it); bunted and emptied the triple-tube feeder of sunflower seed after breaking the pole supporting it in half; and ripped the suet feeder, which hung from an iron bracket screwed to the front of the house, right off the wall and made off with the whole suet cake in its metal cage. The second time, the nyjer and suet were untouched but the triple-tube was shattered. In both instances, many pounds of seed were vacuumed up without a trace.

Thereafter, we conscientiously brought in the feeders, and when we traveled we didn't put them out at all. When one of us traveled, the one staying at home brought them in -- until this month, when I was out of town and my spouse dutifully retrieved and rehung the big feeder each day but overlooked the nyjer tube. When I got home I noticed it missing and asked where he'd put it. Last seen hanging on its usual hook on the apple tree. But now, not there.

No debris, no tracks, no sign of disturbance anywhere in the yard. Hmmm. You don't just lose a full bird feeder! I replaced it yet again, this time with a little mesh seed sock instead of a pricey feeder. Then I went out of town again. He forgot again. And the nyjer sock disappeared again.

No debris, no tracks, no sign of disturbance anywhere in the yard.

So either some human is running around rural backyards stealing nyjer feeders, or some animal is lifting mine with human-like ease. The spring bear was a smash-and-grabber; is this a different bear, a tidy one, with prehensile paws? Or one who perfected its technique over a summer of practice elsewhere? Or do we have a particularly agile raccoon?

Regardless, the raiding should end soon -- both species hibernate for the winter, and the general consensus is that bears are down by November. I should be able to relax vigilance for a while. But they also say that bears have terrific memories for food sources, and we've just proven to be a reliable seed repository. So I'd better keep up the habit of bringing in the feeders every night if I hope to still have them in the spring!

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Friday, October 16, 2009

To pine or not to pine

I have a love/hate relationship with pine trees; specifically, white pine, which grows like a weed in my yard.

Love: They offer year-round food and shelter for many bird species.

Hate: They offer year-round food and shelter for squirrels that ravage my bird feeders.

Love: They grow fast and tall, adding evergreen majesty to the landscape.

Hate: They shed vast amounts of copper pine needles twice a year.

Love: They contribute lightweight, hot-burning firewood.

Hate: They aren’t profitable enough in the marketplace for people to cut them down for you for free.

Love: They provide useful emergency survival food for humans.*

Hate: They get infested with pine borers for all the months the logs need to dry before burning.

This love/hate relationship has developed over the years I’ve been raking needles off the lawn and sweeping them off the deck, and plucking them out of my vehicles’ ventilation systems and interior. Previous owners planted a half-dozen white pines too close to the house, so that we now have 100-foot monsters tilting menacingly toward us while cracks slowly split their trunks. The clock is ticking . . . Will we find the money to have them removed before a high wind, saturating rains, or heavy snows bring them crashing through the roof?

(We can’t cut them ourselves because they’re too big and too close—a “technical” drop for which professional tools and skills are required. And I refuse—I absolutely refuse!—to spend a season cleaning up the overwhelming debris.)

The sad thing is, as much as I want those sun-blocking, needle-shedding, grass-smothering, sap-dripping trees removed, I’m already mourning the birds that will go away with them. One of my greatest pleasures is the avian traffic right outside my windows all four seasons. With the pine trees gone, those birds will not only lose great habitat but also have to fly across significant open space to reach the feeders. Many of them will move elsewhere, I suspect. So I’m hoping the trees stand indefinitely while I mutter curses below them.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks . . .


* The new shoots, inner bark, young male cones, and needles are all edible. Needle tea, in particular, contains 25 times more vitamin C than the equivalent a mount of orange juice. Various parts have medicinal properties, too.


Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at