I took my birdfeeders down in chilly mid-March this year, yielding reluctantly to evidence of early ursine arousal. Their hibernations ending early, the bears made me do it.
I live in a senior retirement community whose median age is 85. Management is understandably wary lest any of us have a close encounter with a grumpy bear that hasn’t eaten in months. When one of my neighbors had her two feeders destroyed one night, the edict was predictable: Take ‘em down. I had reasons of my own to agree.
Ironically, both her feeders held safflower seed that bears supposedly shun. Their sense of smell is reputedly seven times better than bloodhounds’, and a thousand-times-plus better than yours and mine, so this bear should have left the feeders alone. She or he, though, apparently had just enough spatial logic to recognize the shape of feeders, and knocked them down just in case there were some sunflower seeds, bear favorites.
Finding only safflower, Ursa departed without any midnight snack, leaving tracks that made clear who had come calling.
Our community is built on a former dairy farm, surrounded by ample former pastureland. We also adjoin a huge 1950s flood control reservoir, which has grown into a handsome forest that occasionally but only briefly retains heavy rains to be slowly released. It is home to deer, coyotes, bobcats, rabbits. turkeys, kestrels – and at least one pair of bears.
Happily, I’ve not wanted for avian company this spring and summer: I put up a birdbath, and have kept it invitingly full of fresh water. (I found online an inexpensive, solar-powered fountain that let me offer bird showers; but even a slight breeze blew some water over the edge, so the birdbath was dry in a half hour. I gave that up.)
Even placid, the bath attracts lots of smaller birds, mostly sparrows. The downy and hairy woodpeckers that had been attracted to my suet cakes must be bathing elsewhere, as are the bright goldfinches that use to hang acrobatically upside down at my thistle feeders. I miss them.
Scientists worry that global warming is disrupting the life cycles of many animals, including the hibernation habits of bears, so I worry, too. I’d like to put my birdfeeders back out by the end of October, advertising that I welcome visits from those feathered friends who winter over. But I won’t be able to do that until the state environmental guru assures us that the bears have been tucked in for the winter.
A few mashed-up feeders aren’t the only risk if I put them up too early. I have an eight-year-old black toy poodle who imagines that he is my stalwart defender, with noise his main weapon. He might be brave enough – foolhardy enough – to think his yapping would chase away a furry 150-to-300-pound visitor.
Don Noel is retired from four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT. He took his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013, and has since published more than five dozen short stories, all of which can be read at his website, https://dononoel.com.