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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Pest of the Month: Black Bears

Pest of the Month: Black Bears

Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.

This month, Ursus americanus, the black bear.

Habitat and History:
Black bears are one of three species of bears found throughout North America — along with grizzly bears and polar bears — and are the smallest in size, and the most widespread species on the continent.

Male black bears typically range in size from 150 to 350 pounds, with females ranging from 100 to 150 pounds. They are stocky in structure with short, thick legs. Black bears have five toes, with claws on all of them. Their coats are generally glossy black or dark brown with a tan muzzle. Despite the name, though, some black bears are actually light brown or cinnamon in color.

Ideal black bear habitat is thick forest with a combination of coniferous and deciduous trees and some sort of wetlands, be it streams or swampy areas. Their dens can range from hollowed trees, fallen trees, rocky ledges, to small caves and brush piles. Most Black bears will camouflage their den entrances with wood, leaves and brush, making it hard to find them in winter.

Black bears enter a period of dormancy in the wintertime called “torpor,” when their heart rate slows and body temperatures become lower. They also do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate while “denned up.” Contrary to popular belief, though, bears are not considered true hibernators, as they can, and sometimes do, wake up during this period.

A black bear’s range is rather large, and they don’t generally tolerate each other, with the exception of the sows and their cubs. Females with cubs have a home range of approximately six to nineteen square miles, while males range from twelve to sixty square miles, depending on habitat. Ranges can overlap, although not usually among those of the same sex.

Black bears are generally shy, and have a keen sense of smell. Garbage can attract bears from very long distances. Black bears primarily feed and travel at night. They can run up to 35 miles per hour, are great climbers, and very strong swimmers.

Diet:
Black bears are omnivorous. They eat berries, fruit, nuts, grasses, and herbs. They also enjoy carrion, the occasional small animal, and insects. They rarely prey on livestock or deer. One important thing to note for homeowners who live in bear country is their unequaled love of birdseed!

Reproduction:
Black bears are slow breeders. Cubs are generally born blind and toothless in January or February, in the den. They usually weigh six to twelve ounces at birth. The sow will begin to breed anywhere from two to four years of age, and will continue to breed every other year after that. The cubs generally stay with their mother until the second summer of their lives, when they begin to disperse and find their own range.

Problems, Solutions, and Health Concerns:
No known bear diseases or parasites are usually transmitted to humans. While black bears, like all mammals, are susceptible to rabies, it is not really a major problem among them, and there have been no recorded occurrences of the disease being transmitted to humans by black bears at this time.

Black bears usually go to great lengths to avoid human conflict, but with the ever expanding population growth, especially in the northeast, along with man’s steady encroachment on the black bear’s territory, more and more instances are occurring.

To prevent bears from getting too comfortable around your home, it’s important to keep your property clean and free from things a black bear would consider a food source. Keep your garbage containers clean and secure. If at all possible, keep them inside or in a secure garage or shed at night. Do not keep pet food or livestock feed outside unless the containers are airtight and odor free.

Bird feeders should be installed at least ten feet high, and at least six feet from a tree. If a black bear is invading your bird feeders, and/or suet, STOP all bird feeding for at least a month, and clean up the area.

Sprinkle lime on compost piles and apply ammonia to garbage to make them unattractive to bears. You should also always keep your grill cleaned, and never leave food leftovers or garbage outside after a family barbeque or picnic. These are all, of course, general recommendations, and are not guaranteed to keep black bears away from your property.

If you come in contact with a black bear while camping or hiking, make your presence known by making loud noises and waving your arms. If you surprise a black bear, walk away slowly, while facing the bear. Do not turn your back and run, which may trigger him to give chase. Never look a bear straight in the eye. The bear may perceive this as a threat and charge. Sometimes they will bluff charge you to within a few feet. If this happens, try to stay calm and slowly retreat, waving and shouting as loud as possible.

When camping, never store your food in your tent. Keep it at least ten feet above the ground with a rope, or store it in your car. Also, do not cook food or keep your cooking area near your tent if possible.

Black bears do occasionally attack livestock and beehives. You can install electric fencing to help protect your animals, or bring them into a barn at night. You can also install electric fencing around your beehives.

Remember, black bears all have their own personalities, and what might work with one, might not work with another. You do not have to fear black bears, but you should always respect them!

All of the above suggestions are just that…. Suggestions. You may have other valuable ideas for keeping black bears away from your property. If so, please share them below, along with any questions you may have. Feel free to email me at info@weeksoutdoors.com, as well, for help preventing black bears from becoming habituated to your property.

13 comments

1 Bob ODonnell { 06.28.14 at 2:09 pm }

Hello, can anyone help? We are in SW New Hampshire and bears are becoming common in the summer with a few visits. We discontinued our bird feeders but now I’m concerned about my Blueberries. They are right by my driveway and after 30 years are the best in town (to the bears as well). Does anyone have any ideas on (Leave my blueberries alone Guys)? Thanks in advance.

2 Rachel Cargill { 06.10.14 at 11:04 pm }

Thank you for the info on Black Bears.
Helps to know & understand.

3 Dennis Bales { 06.10.14 at 9:31 pm }

A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR!!!! Do not feed the bears!!!! 🐻

4 Violet Rozanski { 06.10.14 at 5:53 pm }

You would be surprised if you found out a neighbor down the road thinks it is cute to feed the bears and that can be the start of a big problem. As it was ,one of my neighbors were feeding the bears day old bread, and one time the bears came to feed and there was no bread …one of the larger bears got aggravated and picked the feeder that was concreted in the ground up and threw it in the creek. Scared the daylights out of the neighbor and needless to say he got rid of the feeder and stopped feedin the bears!

5 C arol Derick { 12.27.13 at 8:08 am }

After hearing bear visits in our area (avon, ct), we had our first in Aug, 2013. A momma and her three cubs promptly made it over our average height chain link fence. They stayed for about five minutes and left. I had just enough time to take in the bird feeder. I knew nothing about bears @ that time. Just last week (Dec 2013) we’ve had another bear visit us. Got to my two windows with bird feeders on them. I’m now doing research on bears. I MISS MY BIRDS.

6 Leona Hamilton { 07.11.13 at 6:00 pm }

We live in the woods on the side of a mountain, no nearby neighbors, and bears come through our area often. I love to take bird pictures and therefore I have bird feeders. I came home today to find the birdfeeder pulled in on the pulley, they know how to do it, but they also broke the tray on the feeder. My husband and I are clearing off some areas and planting foods, plants, etc. that will attract birds and we won’t have to put out feeders. We are going to let natural habitat do it, that is the best way to keep bears from being pests around our home, after today we are not going to have a bird feeder out. We planted clover for deer and it’s already growing well, flowers for butterflies and some for birds, too. We’re going to give the animals a natural habitat to enjoy along with us.

7 Sandra Myers { 06.09.13 at 4:15 pm }

I might have had a black bear in my yard a couple of years ago in the winter, here in Sharon MA. I saw very unusually large “paw” prints in the yard, coming in from the woods—like those described in this article and went outside to take a few photos and measure. They were several inches in length and like nothing I’m used to seeing of deer and other woodland creatures. I emailed them to a local Audubon society and called them, but they had no idea. We are also in process of moving to West Hartford Ct, just below Avon Mtn and the reservoirs, and am curious about the possibility of them “visiting”. The yard there is fenced in ( pool) like here ( same). Any ideas?

8 Colt { 08.27.12 at 8:43 am }

What do you bet Beth lives in a shoebox somewhere in NYC? If you live with them as I do, thay can be and are in fact pests. LOL….

9 Nick Rose { 04.15.12 at 8:29 pm }

I live in western north carolina in a residential neighborhood, and bears regularly visit my yard. I love to feed birds, and have had my setup destroyed several times. After the last time, I rigged up a pulley system, and bears could not get to it for several months. I was optimistic of this setup finally being being bear proof when I saw an adolescent bear try to reach for a feeder from a tree and couldn’t get it. Last tuesday a neighbor saw a bear succeed in taking it down unfortunately. I don’t want to stop feeding birds, and I am also worried about my garden. Does anyone have any tips for vegetable gardening in bear areas? I don’t want bears to eat my watermelons. For now I have given up on putting suet out for birds, and plan to make improvements to my pulley system for other feeders.

Beth: I work for an environmental organization, and understand where you are coming from, but I think you would feel differently if bears were knocking over YOUR trashcan and raiding YOUR birdfeeders. Bears in my neighborhood exploit human habitation, and do not live in the middle of the woods. I do not want them exterminated, I want them to be happy eating what they have for thousands of years in their natural habitat. Like it or not, human/bear habitat overlaps considerably, and this is an important discussion for the people who are affected by this problem. My goal is to do the things I like to do without encouraging bad bear behavior. It is a matter of safety.

10 Karen { 11.03.11 at 2:17 pm }

Beth Downs – Knowledge is power. With this knowledge you may be able to keep yourself and family safer. Katie Dunbar – Have you considered installing a 6 foot ffence around the property? I know its expensive, but your children’s safety would be worth it.

11 kim a { 10.14.11 at 7:29 pm }

ms. downs it is disappointing that u see it that way. i can understand that yes humans have inhabited their space. but it is good to know for those, i would assume by ur email, like urself while out in their habitat and are apperantly clueless about them. i guess you would if u lived in their habitat and they attacked one of your (grand)kids or animals then u would see it differently. i am glad that the article was written. it sounds to me that u r a tree hugger and that is fine, but go hug some real trees in their habitat during mating seasons or when they have their cubs with them. then some of the important information that you read in this peice wil help u when in their habitat. remember walk facing them and don’t run! the best bear i have ever seen is the one mounted! and their meat tast wonderful.

12 Roseanne Chobanuk { 06.16.11 at 12:45 am }

We also live in “Bear Country” in a small town in British Columbia, Canada. They are simply an interesting fact of life. We have a Bear Aware contractor who goes to the schools, businesses etc. to help educate people re how to co-exist peacefully with bears. They provide very helpful information as did the above article.
As to Ms Downs letter, What would you have us do, leavePlanet Earth? We’re here to stay, I think the best idea is to become informed as to how best co-exist. And, they can be pesty when you get 5-6 in a day go through the yard & have to snatch the kids/grandkids in!

13 admin { 06.11.11 at 1:44 pm }

Thanks Katie – Very good thoughts.

14 katie dunbar { 06.10.11 at 3:37 pm }

I think that Ms. Down… is upset with the title of the article..because the actual article is very factual. This is to help people understand why they do the things they do, and to prevent the negative things from happening between bears & humans. I live out in a very rural area..and black bears are an everyday thing in the summertime. If you do not follow those simple guidelines.. you will have a bear problem. I was unloading our groceries, (and thankfully with 3 small children inside the house).. I had to make several trips, between my trips to the house..a bear came to my car.. and reach and grabbed my 50lb bag of dog food. I walked out just as it was getting ready to pick it up. It carried it into the edge of my yard and ate the whole bag. I store the dog food in the house.. because of them. They are regular visitor’s at our home.. and I don’t like them being so close. We can’t enjoy summer time for them. We put the trash out the morning of the trash run, and we have several large dogs to help warn us when they are near. We still have a bear problem. When we were digging our footers for our new house.. one snuck up about 20 ft from my husband (MID DAY) and was watching him dig. No food or pet food around. So they can be aggravating when you can’t let our kids out to play without worrying they might get charged by one. Esp. with cubs.

15 Jaime McLeod { 06.09.11 at 8:29 am }

Hi Beth,
Sorry to hear that the article upset you. If you read the story carefully, though, you’ll see that nowhere in it does Shawn recommend hurting or killing bears. Instead, the whole point of the article is to teach people how to avoid attracting them. I can understand your perspective about humans encroaching on wild areas, but wouldn’t you agree that it’s better for the bears, themselves, if humans don’t attract them through the kinds of sloppy housekeeping practices described here? Any park ranger will tell you that a bear who becomes too comfortable around humans is a danger to itself.

16 Ann Walker { 06.08.11 at 5:47 pm }

I have listened to my best friend in Longwood, FL tell her stories of the black bears in their residential neighborhood. Evidently living in Wekiva Springs Park and close to Ocala National Park gives the bears “claim” or “priority” to the area. The funniest thing she shared with me is that she puts her garbage in the freezer. She only puts her garbage out for pickup the morning of…I just hooted when she told me that. Can you imagine going to the freezer (unknowing) to get something out to prepare a meal and pull out a package of garbage?!

17 Beth M. Downs { 06.08.11 at 5:34 pm }

I find this article really disturbing. Since when did a beautiful creature who was here BEFORE we started developing in their habitat get labeled a ‘pest’?? If anything is a PEST on the environment, it’s humans. We’re destroying animals’ habitats and yet WE label THEM as “pests”?! I am shocked this is an article pushed by Farmer’s Almanac and am disappointed in your writing staff. Truly disappointed.

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