Feb 27, 2019 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, February 2018

Ask Birdsquatch: An Unbearable Problem!

What do you do when your feeders attract wildlife beyond the birds? Birdsquatch provides answers. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

We have a cottage in the woods in Pennsylvania and we enjoy feeding the birds there. One problem: Bears. I've tried everything I can think of to keep the feeders away from the bears, but they always empty them and sometimes even destroy them. If you can tell me what to do to keep the bears from my bird feeders (including my hummingbird feeder), I would be most grateful.

—Paul M., Alexandria, Pennsylvania

Dear Paul:

First, I'll share some practical advice, then some ’squatchy philosophy. My human friends who have bears as neighbors feed birds only on the ground during the bears' active season. (In much of the country, bears hibernate for the winter months, so it's safe to offer seed and suet in hanging bird feeders then.)

When bears are active—April through October—bear-savvy feeder operators scatter bird seed on the ground in a wide pattern. The birds can enjoy it, and so can the bears. This solves the problem of destroyed or stolen bird feeders. During these months, do not use any type of bird feeder.

There are two alternative strategies. One is to bring the feeders in during the night, when bears are usually more actively foraging. Of course, this is impossible if you do not live in the cottage all the time. The other way is to hang the feeders from a wire suspended high in a tree or between two greased poles. While this may be more effort and expense than you are willing to invest, it does keep the bears from getting to the feeders—provided they can't reach the wire.

I'm sorry I do not have a permanent, easy, fool-proof solution for you, but I hope these suggestions will help. Now for the ’squatch view: As a wild mammal (like the bears), I have a unique perspective on this. It's hard work for large, wild beasts like us to find enough food all the time. That's why a bird feeder full of sunflower seed, or a suet feeder, or a nectar feeder is so attractive to us. There isn't a bird feeder that a black bear won't destroy. For that reason, I recommend feeding birds only when you are at the cabin, and then, using feeders suspended high above standing or climbing reach of a bear.

You could also feed birds on a simple platform feeder (a 3-by-3-foot piece of plywood atop a couple of cinder blocks) that the bears can knock over without breaking. Otherwise, you might try a squirrel-deterring tactic: Offer an easy source of food on the ground, far from your bird feeders. It might lure the bears' attention away from your bird offerings.

A pile of seed, cracked corn, or even old doughnuts (bears and ’squatches love ’em) far from your bird feeders might do the trick. If you leave leftover blueberry pie out there, I may just stop by, too.

Note: Feeding bears is illegal in some states.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018
  • I had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018