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Bears and Bird Feeders

Bears (and other wildlife) are readily attracted to back yards because of the presence of bird feeders. Bear nuisance complaint records reveal that at certain times of the year, bird feeders are involved in over 80% of the bear problems around homes. The situation often escalates to other unnatural food sources such as garbage cans, barbeque grills, and compost piles as bears become bolder and more acclimated to people. Such activities are not in the best interest of the bears or the homeowners.

A black bear sitting on the ground, sniffing and holding a hanging birdfeeder.
Did you know:
A black bear must consume up to
15,000-20,000 calories per day. A typical bird
feeder contains roughly 12,000 calories.
Help keep bears wild and your property safe.

As unbelievable as it may be, an animal as large and powerful as a black bear is readily attracted to bird feeders. Bird seed is an easy source of calories. In many cases, bird seed is the food of choice and will be sought out over other natural foods.

Bird seed, even in small quantities, is high in protein and fat. It takes less effort to obtain calories from a bird feeder than to forage for natural foods. Bears that successfully find bird seed at one home will inevitably approach other homes. If they become accustomed to feeding in yards and around homes and people, they may cause property damage and will likely become chronic nuisances.

Bears foraging in developed areas are significantly more likely to be hit by cars or shot illegally by people who mistakenly perceive a threat to their own safety.

Take Action!

It is imperative to break the pattern of black bears coming to homes for food.

  • DEC highly recommends that bird feeding activities cease by April 1 and resume November 30 if you live in bear country.
  • Bird feeding should only occur during the winter months when bears are in their dens. Birds do not require supplemental feeding, especially during the warmer months of the year.
    • Some natural, bear-safe ways to attract birds to your yard are bird baths and colorful native gardens.
  • When bears emerge from their dens in early spring, natural foods are lacking. Bird seed presents an abundant and easily obtained food source.
  • It is also important to remember that residual seed remaining on the ground will attract bears. It should either be removed or treated with a covering scent, such as ammonia.
  • A bear on a porch reaches over to a hanging birdfeeder.
  • Store all birdseed securely indoors at all times.
  • In some areas it may be safe to resume feeding birds during early summer if the feeders are closely monitored. If bears return, feeders should be immediately removed until winter.
  • Electric fencing around bird feeders does not bother birds and is a reliable way to discourage bears.

'Bear-Resistant Bird Feeders'

Many people feel they can out-smart bears by taking their feeders in at night. This may offer some relief; however, there is usually enough residual seed from daytime feeding to continue to attract bears. Others attempt to place the feeder high and out of reach of the bear. A bear's sense of smell is so keenly developed that the presence of the feeder will continue to attract the bear. This often does not discourage it from spending considerable time near the bird feeder trying to figure out how to reach it. Other residents have attempted to mix cayenne pepper with the bird seed to make it less palatable. In bear country, every bear that finds the feeder will have to knock it down to learn that it contains pepper and is not a good source of food.

Removal of the attraction is the only long-term solution.

Feeding Bears is Prohibited

The intentional feeding of bears is illegal. Furthermore, it creates potentially serious problems that ultimately lead to the death of the bear. Some homeowners receive much satisfaction from their bird feeding activities and are reluctant to stop feeding. However, if the bird feeding creates bear problems in the area, a written warning may be issued by DEC Officers. Failure to heed the warning will result in a ticket being issued. Homeowners are urged to discontinue bird feeding activities before bear problems develop.

Report bears accessing bird feeders in your neighborhood before it becomes a serious problem. Contact your regional DEC office.

A black bear pulls itself along a rope used to hold a birdfeeder.

As is the case with almost all human-bear conflicts, if you take away the food you will take away the bear. Black bears, like all wildlife, are best appreciated at a distance.

More about Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts:

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    Bureau of Wildlife
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-4754
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