Feeding Birds Responsibly in Bear Country

This guide is designed to help if you are new to bird feeding, or you are already feeding birds and have bear problems.

bear & bird feederTo feed birds or not to feed birds?

Feeding birds has benefits and drawbacks. The birds get extra nourishment and we humans get to enjoy watching them at close range. But feeders can cause problems by increased transmission of avian diseases, predation from cats, and attracting bears and other nuisance wildlife into your yard.

Done right, bird feeding can be good for the birds and not cause undesirable side effects.

If you decide to feed birds in your yard

Winter is the most desirable time of year to feed birds – natural food is more difficult for the birds to obtain in winter, and bears are generally hibernating from mid November to mid March.

If you feed the birds in winter you should commit to feed the birds all winter. The birds need to have a reliable source of food, or they waste their energy coming to your yard. If you want to help birds this is very important.

Water – birds need water for drinking and bathing, both in summer and in winter. You’ll need a submersible thermostat/heater in the winter. Water is more valuable to birds in summer than food, since food in the form of insects and seed is naturally quite plentiful.

Bird feeding in summer requires more planning and responsibility in bear country – bears are generally active from mid-March thru mid-November. It’s important to make sure a bear doesn’t get a reward if it discovers your bird feeder.

  • Hang feeders 10′ high, and at least 4′ from any supporting post or tree. Or put them behind electric fencing that is at least 6′ high.
  • Or take your feeders down and bring them in at night, or if you leave town.
  • Only put a small amount of food in the feeder – this reduces the reward if a bear finds your feeder.
  • Clean out the area under the feeders regularly with a broom or rake.
How to clean a bird feeder

  • Empty the feeder and scrub it to get all food remnants out. Rinse.
  • Use one part liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of tepid water (a 10% solution) to disinfect.
  • Make enough solution to immerse the feeder completely. Keep it submerged for two to three minutes.
  • Allow to air dry.
  • Once or twice a month should do, but weekly cleaning may be needed if you notice sick birds at your feeders (sick birds are less alert and less active – they may cower on the feeder, reluctant to fly).

Hummingbird feeders need the same separation from bears as seed feeders. Change the sugar water at least weekly (see sidebar). Also check daily for signs of mold, and if you find any then clean the feeder and refill it with fresh sugar water.

Keep your cats in the house. House cats are deadly to birds, causing in excess of 20% mortality of local wildlife (birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles).

Keep your feeders and bird bath clean
(see sidebar). And the surrounding area – pick up all waste seed, hulls, and shells regularly from beneath the feeders.

Store all bird food indoors in sealed containers to avoid conflicts with bears, raccoons, and rodents.

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