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

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