2017-03-30 / Life in Leelanau

Hide your bird feeders; bears are hungry

Spring diet includes bird seed, garbage
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS BEAR was caught on a trail camera on March 17 at Palmer Woods Forest Reserve near Maple City. The camera is looking toward one of the deer enclosures. THIS BEAR was caught on a trail camera on March 17 at Palmer Woods Forest Reserve near Maple City. The camera is looking toward one of the deer enclosures. Male bears are just waking up from their long winter’s nap so if a clatter is heard in the yard, it just might be a big hungry guy looking for some food.

Just ask John Peppler of Glen Arbor, who had a bear on his deck two nights in a row in December.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Peppler, a real estate broker. “I watched him for half an hour.”

Before actually seeing the bear, Peppler said he came home a couple of days in a row to a bird feeder that was bent over. He knew a bear had visited him and started watching for him.

He was soon rewarded.

“I was just sitting there and I saw his nose come up over the bench and then he was on my deck,” Peppler said. “It was nice to have the wall between me and the bear, but I had a blast watching him.”


JOHN PEPPLER enjoyed watching the black bear that stopped for a dinner of suet from the bird feeder on the deck of his Glen Arbor home. JOHN PEPPLER enjoyed watching the black bear that stopped for a dinner of suet from the bird feeder on the deck of his Glen Arbor home. Black bear are uncommon but not rare in Leelanau, which in general lacks the expansive swamps and woods needed to maintain a large population of them across the county. Their presence is most obvious here when they get into bee hives placed in county cherry orchards to aid in pollination.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources there are about 2,000 adult black bears in northern lower Michigan. Spring usually comes with increased calls to the DNR from homeowners and business owners who are having issues with bears — in their bird feeders and in their garbage.

The easiest way to keep a bear out of your bird feeder is to bring the feeder in during spring and summer.

Bird seed and suet are high in fat content. For a bear, they’re like going to a fast food joint, said local bear afficionado Ann McInnis.

The bears like bird food so much that it will tempt them out of their natural habitat and into places they normally would be afraid to go. And once a bear discovers a bird feeder, you can expect it to come back for more.

Bears will lose their natural fear of humans and may become a threat, according to the DNR.

As a rule bears are pretty shy, McInnis said, and will most likely run if you shout at them.

“They don’t really want to have any interaction with people,” McInnis said.

Male bears wake up earlier than females, who won’t rouse for about another month, especially if they have a couple of cubs, McInnis said.

A retired science teacher who has given several presentations on bears for the Leelanau Conservancy, Rotary clubs and other groups, McInnis guesses that there are about 25 bears in Leelanau County.

And it’s a myth that black bears will attack humans, she said.

“People unfortunately get overexcited and worried,” she said. “They think they’ll be eaten alive, I guess.”

According to statistics from the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn. the greatest misconception about black bears is that they will attack people to defend their cubs.

If a mama bear thinks her cubs are threatened, she’ll chase them up a tree and come back for them later, McInnis said.

The cubs weigh about eight ounces when they’re born and by spring they may be the size of a small dog.

“It’s their only protection,” she said.

Since 1900, less than 70 people have been killed by black bears, with most of those being in remote areas of Canada and Alaska where bears have very little contact with people, according to the Bear Center.

During that same period, well over 2 million bears have been killed by people.

If someone sees a bear they should make a lot of noise and back away from it, McInnis said.

“Or just watch it,” she said. “That’s what I would do.”

Laura Bonzelet was driving home at about 10:30 one night in Glen Arbor when she suddenly saw a large brown mass in on the road in front of her.

“It just popped out of the river and onto the road,” Bonzelet said. “I hit him pretty solidly.”

The bear weighed about 200 pounds and was donated to a taxidermist, said Bonzelet, who wasn’t injured.

It was Bonzelet’s first encounter with a bear.

“I saw one run across the road several years ago, but not quite as close as this one,” she said.

Bears will mostly just hide from people, McInnis said. They have a very strong sense of smell and will get out of your way.

Michigan black bears, which are actually brown in color, will go into hibernation in December. They’ll dig out a den in the ground, under a fallen tree or in a brush pile. They’ll also den in a rock cavity or in a root mass.

“They like to snuggle up under upturned trees,” she said. “They’ll dig it out a little.”

It’s not very warm, but they add lots of body fat before going into their slumber. When they wake up they’re not famished, as many would believe, McInnis said.

“They just kind of stumble around,” she said. “It takes them a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things.”

When they do, they’ll dine on a diet of fresh greenery, plants, berries and nuts.

Only about 10 percent of their diet comes from meat, which they’ll get by using their claws to break open logs for the ants and grubs hidden inside.

They may also eat carrion or a very young deer not old enough to run away, but they won’t seek either one out, McInnis said.

“If a bear just happens to stumble on one, they’ll eat it,” she said.

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