My wife will attest that there are very few things that I spend top dollar on, or even retail price for that matter. Even my camera gear, which is my primary passion, is almost entirely made up of used purchases. I can only think of three items that garner my extravagant side: shoes are one of them. My feet are that important to me. Mayonnaise is another. Don’t be making my sandwiches with that cheap crap. And then there is my bird seed. I don’t really know why I fret so much over my backyard buddies, but I do ... always have.
Birds have always held a unique and special place in my heart. My co-workers at school will tell you of the mockingbird I adopted last year, spending a small fortune keeping him happy with high quality nourishment. Not a morning goes by at my home that I don’t visit my feeders and insure a happy day for all my feathered friends.
So the other day, when I found one of my feeders smashed on the ground and empty of seed, I was distraught to say the least. My first thought was one of my grandkids either got careless or mischievous while playing in the yard. But when I also found my large metal tube feeder halfway down the yard, some 30 yards from where it was hanging, I knew then what I was up against. I had seen this all before.
Several years back my wife and I owned a glorious little cottage on the side of the mountain out past Algoma. I had created what was nothing short of a small outdoor aviary across our 5 acres of land. During our time there I had photographed and logged more than 50 species of birds on our property. But, I also attracted a bandit. The squirrels were an expected nuisance, but harmless enough. The raccoons were a bit more trouble; yet were manageable with some minor adjustments. But the bears — those bandits caused me great grief and headache.
It was my first experience with a bear intrusion, so I muddled through a lot of trial and error prevention. I was buying fancy glass feeders at the time — they looked so good hanging everywhere. The bears didn’t seem to care as much for them. My next thought was heavy duty feeders, strong durable suckers. I saw this ad online selling “bear-proof” birdfeeders, foolish I know, but I had to get one of these contraptions. I came across a bear expert in Boone, North Carolina who ran a small nature store specializing in birding gear. He was a retired professor from Appalachian State and a part-time employee for the park service.
I’ll never forget the smile on his face when I asked if he carried “bear proof” bird feeders. He proceeded immediately in telling me a story of a bear that ripped the door off a locked car, then tore apart the back seat to get to the trunk space, just to enjoy a small picnic lunch hidden there. Then he looked me in the eye and asked, “what was it again you were looking for?”
I hear they now sell “bear proof” poles to hang your feeders, just $795 with a $250 additional charge if you want it installed. I can’t help but wonder if this pole is stronger than the small tree my bear took down to get one of my feeders. Yes — the entire tree.
Seriously though, it is summertime, and our county’s bear population is busy foraging for food. I’ve learned one thing about bears over the years, despite their uncanny intelligence, they are truly lazy beasts. They will take free food hanging in trees before putting effort in foraging any day, and twice on Sundays. Bears are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of foods, but the majority of their diet is plant material such as seeds, fruits and grains, making bird feeders ideal for a quick meal (especially if you buy the good stuff like I do). 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 are also creatures of habit, and the last thing you or I need is for them to get comfortable visiting our homes. It is indeed not safe, not for you, and definitely not for the bear. You can spend countless hours attempting to out-smart the bear with creative bird feeding techniques. You can spend a ridiculous amount of money purchasing the latest “bear proof” gimmicks and gadgets. Or you can do the wise thing for yourself and for the bear: take down the feeders until fall. The birds will do just fine on their own until then.