Recent rash of bear raids has local residents wary

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Courtesy photo

A black bear is pictured raiding a nighttime bird feeder, a sight that many residents across the region have experienced over the last few weeks.


REGION – A recent increase of nighttime bear raids on area bird feeders has residents on the alert for more unwanted visits.

Although most bear sightings in urban and suburban areas usually occur during the springtime in Michigan, black bears have been raiding bird feeders in Bellaire, Central Lake, and Elk Rapids for the past couple of weeks, with local DNR conservation officers receiving a number of complaints.

Most of those complaints have been about damage to bird feeders, according to CO Andrea Albert, of Torch River, who said that in all situations she recommended putting the bird feeders away to prevent further damage, as well as anything else that can have the odor of food on it, such as pet food dishes, garbage cans and barbecues until snow levels and long periods of cold weather force the animals into hibernation.

Although most black bears hibernate by Dec. 1 in northern Michigan, long periods of warm temperatures and/or a lack of natural foods can keep them on the prowl much longer than usual. 

Reports of bear damage have been increasing steadily over the past 10 years throughout northern Michigan, which has an estimated population of 3,000 black bears, a number that also appears to be increasing annually.

The big bruins, which can weigh up to 400 pounds, also seem to be growing bolder, with numerous reports of raided bird feeders coming from residences within village limits as well as well-populated residential lakeshore areas.

In recent weeks, bears have been reported raiding bird feeders on South Genessee Street in the Village of Bellaire, on Northshore Drive on the northern shore of Lake Bellaire, on Rushton Road in the Village of Central Lake, as well as side streets on the far eastern edge of Central Lake, in a residential area of South Intermediate Lake Road in Central Lake, and on South Bayshore Drive in Elk Rapids as well as on Williams Road at the south end of Birch Lake.

Cameron Jon, an employee at Jack's Sport Shop in Kalkaska, and other employees in the store, said they were not aware of any recent bear raids on local bird feeders, but had heard "of a lot up in Antrim County." 

"There must be a lot of bears up there," Jon said.

Although a young girl was attacked by a bear near Cadillac in 2017, and reports of bears attacking and injuring or even killing dogs in suburban back yards are becoming more common, most black bears are not aggressive.

But that all depends on the circumstances.

"Although black bears are naturally wary creatures, problems typically occur when humans feed black bears, intentionally or unintentionally," said Kevin Swanson, a wildlife specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Bears can detect scents more than two miles away, so don’t unwittingly make household trash, pet foods and other food sources easily available for bears to find and eat."

The bruins can accustom themselves to the presence of humans, and lose their fear of people, Swanson noted.

"In an area where bears have been seen, always turn on a backyard light and make loud noises before taking pets outside at night," he said.

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