Backyard Attractants

2012-08-16 19.10.55Black bears have extremely good noses and smells worthy of investigation can lead bears right to your doorstep. Bringing bears into residential areas is a risk to you, your property and your neighbors and causes the very preventable deaths of bears.

Continually dealing with bears in lieu of cleaning up the human foods that attract bears near people is nonsensical and clearly, ineffective. It’s like dealing with a broken water main by continuously mopping up water.

The most effective way to protect the welfare of both people and bears is to properly manage attractants and prevent bears from accessing human foods in the first place.


“If you secure your garbage and remove bird feeders, you have addressed the two temptations that cause the vast majority of bear-human conflicts in New Hampshire.” — New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins



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It is best to remove all bird feeders for the entire period that bears are out of hibernation – from mid-March until mid-November. This includes suet feeders, peanut butter feeders and all types of seed and hummingbird feeders. Birds don’t need supplemental feed at this time anyway and it is very difficult to feed birds without also attracting bears.

Bird feeders are often a wild bears first exposure to human foods and studies have shown that over 80% of nuisance bear activity can be traced back to a bears first encounter with bird feeders.  Bears quickly learn what they are, the caloric boost they provide and most importantly, bird feeders train bears to come right up to homes.

A seven-pound tube of black oil sunflower seed contains over 12,000 calories.  Bears find hummingbird feeders attractive as well, as a 32-ounce feeder contains around 775 calories.  As an alternative, plant native flowers which are known to appeal to hummingbirds.  Or, hang flower baskets that attract hummingbirds, but not bears. Bird baths are a simple way to attract and enjoy birds, as well.

If you feel you must feed birds, at minimum make feeders inaccessible to bears by hanging them at least 10 feet from the ground and six feet from any climbable structure.  A simple pulley system allows for feeders to be out of the reach of bears.  Bring feeders inside at night, however, bear in mind that bears can arrive at your home anytime, day or night.  Do not overfill feeders and promptly clean up any waste seed, hulls and shells.

Store feed, (a 50-pound bag of bird seed has over 87,000 calories), in a secure location or better yet, in a bear-resistant container.





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Pick fruit a bit before it ripens and remove all fallen fruit from the ground. To keep bears from damaging your trees, protect with electric fencing or get the fruit off the tree, either by shaking the tree or tossing picked fruit to the ground. A single apple tree, for example, can produce more fruit than a single family could possibly use, so find someone else that can use your extra fruit, especially if you can’t pick it yourself. It’s wise to locate trees away from your home.

If you have extra fruit or could use some, learn more about the Fruit Gleaning Program.

If you absolutely do not want bears in your yard it would be best to remove fruit-bearing trees and replace them with non-fruit bearing varieties that don’t attract bears.



When composting in bear country, think green! Anything other than grasses and leaves should not be composted during high-bear activity. Especially, do not discard meat, fish, oil, dairy, kitchen waste, melon rinds, fruits or other particularly odorous bear attractants during that time. Keep the pile aerated and turned and occasionally sprinkle with lime to reduce odor and hasten the composting process. Locate compost well away from forest cover and natural pathways used by bears. Rural residents can use electric fencing. Odor-free, indoor composting works well for small kitchen scraps. Garbage disposals reduce the amount of garbage and trash compactors reduce the volume of kitchen waste until it can be properly disposed.



Most gardens are alright, however, bears will dig up and eat carrots and some flower bulbs. Black bears love tomatoes, squashes, melons, early vegetables, sweet corn, potatoes and other root vegetables and any other particularly aromatic plants and foods. Pick vegetables as they ripen. Distance your garden away from your house if possible and away from natural cover or obvious bear pathways. If you live in a rural setting consider the use of electric fencing to protect your garden. Be aware that blood meal, fish fertilizer and deer repellent attract bears.


Most importantly, empty the grease trap after each use. Burn off excess food and clean grills after each use. Store in a secure location, but do not store your propane tank inside, as it is a fire hazard. It’s a good idea to occasionally clean your grill with ammonia to reduce odors. Don’t leave cooking food unattended and promptly remove or discard anything that can attract bears, including coolers, utensils, used paper plates and soda cans.


Do not leave pet food or food bowls out overnight or unattended. If possible, feed pets indoors when bears are active. Avoid feeding pets outside at dusk when bears are active. Feed only the amount that pets may consume in one feeding and clean up extra food. Store pet food in a safe, secured location or in a bear-resistant container (a 25-pound bag of Purina Dog Chow contains over 42,000 calories). Don’t leave pets outside unattended, especially in the dusk and dawn hours and avoid leaving dog bones or scented chew toys out in your yard.














Don’t leave any odorous items – trash, groceries, pet food, soda cans, livestock grain or coolers in your vehicle. Bears can and do easily pry open vehicle doors and break windows to get at food, coolers and other items they associate with food. A half empty cup of soda or a candy bar is all it takes to incur serious damage to your vehicle and bears that learn to break into vehicles for food rewards will apply this undesired ability to other vehicles. Once a bear begins this unwanted behavior, it is most difficult to change that behavior – and often leads to more vehicle damage, insurance claims and the likely death of a bear. It is best to not allow this unwanted bear behavior to being in the first place.   Watch a YouTube video of a bear pulling a cooler from the bed of a truck at a hotel in Durango.


Watch video of a black bear opening vehicle doors, courtesy: Get Bear Smart, Whistler, BC, Canada.



Youtube video of a black bear opening vehicle doors.






Vehicle damage photo courtesy: Town of Snowmass Village Animal Services