The bear and other visitors

By Kate Crowley
Just yesterday we were talking with some of our neighbors about ‘the bear’.  We don’t know if it’s the same bear that shows up each spring looking for sustenance or a new one, but the point of the discussion was the maintenance of our bird feeders.  They wanted to know if we were bringing them in each night; a practice which we have resorted to in recent years, after a series of visits by a hungry bear.  Mike said he’s been bringing one of the seed feeders and one suet feeder in, because we thought we’d had a raccoon show up one night, but so far the bear had not come around.
Of course, by speaking it, we conjured the bear that same night.  There was a thunderstorm at some point and I picture the bear coming in under cover of the storm to dismantle a new, metal feeder that was attached to a wooden post directly below our bedroom window.  I even had the window open and yet we heard nothing.  I picture the bear standing on its hind legs and wrenching the red barn off of the post and then carefully taking off the top and tipping it up to let the sunflower seeds pour into its mouth.  However it happened, the empty red barn lay on the ground in the morning, along with two other feeders in the front yard.  The shepherd’s hook that held two feeders also lay flat.  It has been bent into a slight C shape from previous bear visits, but we continue to stand it up and hang feeders from it. 
So now we are back to bringing all the feeders in each night, at least for another month, at which point we hope there will be enough natural food to keep the bear satisfied in the surrounding forests.  When they emerge from hibernation bears have not eaten for as long as six months and they have been burning up stored fat, so after they emerge it takes a little bit for their metabolism to restart. Once it does, they need food - now.  This is even more true for the females with cubs.  Unfortunately greens and berries don’t coincide with their needs, although dandelions and clover will do for a while.  They are omnivores and will eat carrion if they can find it and just about any other food.  That is why those of us who live in northern Minnesota (in particular) need to be conscious of where we store dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage.
The bear is just the largest of what I call our ‘uninvited guests’.  This is a dilemma shared by all of us who have chosen to move into the countryside and then decide to feed the birds for our entertainment. It has always annoyed me to hear people complain about the unwanted animal visitors when they have obviously just moved into the territory of the same animals.  And I am one of them.  For many years we had little to no problem with many of the animals that now frequent our yard, because we had dogs. 
It wasn’t long after our last dog died however that the critters began to move in.  The list includes thirteen lined- ground squirrels, raccoons, wild turkeys and white tail deer.  We already had red and grey squirrels, snowshoe hare and chipmunks, but their numbers were held in check by fear of the canines.  But in the past few years the list and number of visitors has grown sharply.  It must be noted that we have willingly and happily hung up a large assortment of feeders holding sunflower seeds and suet and somehow expect the local wildlife to understand that these are strictly intended for the birds. 
Some of these species, like the deer and turkeys would not have been in this area, except for the presence of humans and the changes we have made.  The DNR has helped to introduce wild turkeys to this part of the state and we do enjoy seeing them in the area, but traditionally, they are found in the southern half of the state.  The same is true of the white tail deer.  They were not a northern species until logging came north and created habitat more to their liking.  Moose and woodland caribou were the original ungulates of this region, but of course the deer have been here for so long that everyone assumes they are the original inhabitants. 
We humans like to change things to suit our needs when we move into a new area.  As such we really don’t have a right to complain about the subsequent invasion of species that we consider nuisances, but it is hard not to grumble and whine when you plant flowering or fruit trees, or even tulips and hostas and wake up one morning to find them all gnawed, nibbled and otherwise denuded of buds.  I have resorted to fences and sprays with some success. And somewhere in our future I believe there may be another dog. 


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