Bear necessities in the garden

I saw my first bear “in the wild” this summer. I was driving on a West Virginia country two lane, taking my time and soaking in the scenery – when I saw a black bundle of fur and a brown nose dart across the road.  

The bear was not huge but moved fast and was surprisingly limber as it climbed the guardrail and scurried up the hill. I was so excited to see my first bear.

Neighbors have seen them on ring doorbells and even walking down a street near the little house on a big hill, but this was a first for me. Thank goodness I was safely protected by the car. 

Needless to say, my excitement led this to be the Summer of Bears. I continued to look for bears during my travels and ask others about their encounters.  

Oh my, the stories I heard.

One of my favorites was bear versus birdfeeder. In a neighborhood tucked off the beaten path in the Charleston area, bears are spotted alarming often. One family shared tales and photos of a bear on the terrace and even coming as close as the dining table outside their kitchen window. Yikes!

This is the same terrace where they sit to watch the birds visit the feeders in the yard. Well, you can guess who else loved the bird feeders. It might be easy to squirrel-proof a feeder, but stopping a 300-pound bear is almost impossible.

Unless you are a clever – very clever.

Black bears were adopted by the legislature in 1973 as the official state animal of West Virginia. They have been found in all 55 West Virginia counties and can be active year-round but generally den from November to March. When they emerge in the spring, they are hungry, and because natural food sources are scarce, bears will look for food anywhere they can find it -trash cans and bird feeders.

Once berries begin to ripen in the summer, bears have a steady food source. Same with the fall when hard mast, acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, and soft mast, black cherry, and dogwood ripen as bears are entering the den. 

This all sounds good until you look out the window and see a black bear munching on last night’s pizza or wrecking your birdfeeder for treats.

Back to my friend. Not willing to give up feeding the birds and the enjoyment of learning about the different seeds each bird enjoyed – they got creative.

To place the pole firmly in the ground to withstand the strength of an adult bear, they dug 4 feet deep and added cement to secure the steel pole. Not only did the pole need to be strong and something the bear could not climb, it also needed to be tall -10 feet tall. 

Then, as an added layer of security and bear proofing, a kinda cone was installed below the feeders, which are hung at the top of the pole. This cone catches some of the overflow of seeds and such as the birds eat.

Creating and installing this feeder was work but worth it. The birds enjoy the multiple feeders of different seeds, the family has a clear view of their feathered friends visiting each day, and that silly old bear got fooled.

Oh, he tried to climb the pole but acknowledged defeat after a few tries. Even better, the homeowners caught it on camera. I bet I have watched this video 50 times, and each time, I can’t believe how beautiful and resourceful these creatures are. 

One catch with a very tall bird feeder, you need a very tall ladder to refill the seeds and feed. This also means you should plan on the buddy system – a climber and a spotter – when using the ladder. 

Please remember they are wild animals and can do harm to property, pets, and people when startled or protecting their young. Do not leave food out in an effort to attract bears to your property. Actually, do just the opposite. Make every effort to secure trash, bring pet food inside, and keep your outdoor area clean.

Teddy bears are cute and cuddly; wild bears are just that – wild. As much as I enjoyed seeing  that bear out and about nature, I sure am glad we didn’t meet face to face. If that had happened, this story would have a very different ending.