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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Ask A Bear: Are You A Picky Eater? (VIDEO)

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

Q: In September, a 400-or-so pound black bear came into my backyard and sat by the huge pile of shelled corn I'd put out for the deer. He sat there for a good half hour, sitting in the sun, posing for pictures on the stealth cam, and basking in his own beauty, but he didn't eat a single kernel (see above).

In December, however, he came back and bent steel to get at the itty-bitty little thistle seed in my feeder. I don't understand how those tiny seeds can be so filling, while he snubbed his nose at the trough of sumptuous corn. Can you explain why the black bears don't seem the least bit interested in corn piles, but can't seem to get enough of millet? —Jenny Mount, Oxford, NJ

A:  First of all Jenny, let's take a look at my cousin raiding your feeder on video:




Wow—look at him go! First of all, I'm typically not a picky eater—I'm an opportunistic one, and I'll generally go for whatever is easiest or most plentiful. That said, I do develop some preferences: Grizzlies in Alaska wait for salmon, while bears in Yellowstone prefer seeds from whitebark pine, and bears in Glacier go for army cutworm moth larvae under rocks. These preferences are usually based upon availability: I'm looking for the most available caloric bang for my buck.

All of which plays into my answer to your question. I can't explain exactly why my furry familiar didn't go for the corn in that moment; it's possible that he had already feasted, and simply wanted to mark that place for a return meal later. Or maybe he detected your presence, and had past experiences with humans and knew not to take it any further for risk of reprisal. It's even possible he was just enjoying a good bask.

But we can find a clue on why he went nuts on your nuts in your original question: The nut-raid took place in December. By that point, he was probably getting pretty desperate to fill up on any sustenance he could before bedding down for the winter. Once we go into hyperphagia, enormous amounts of work are worth it to fatten up even a little bit. And nuts would have more fat-building agents than sweet corn, so your cache was of particular value.

And now a quick request from bear to human: You might want to consider removing the feed piles for a few seasons. While I know I'm beautiful, and you love gazing upon my majestic form, it raises the risk that I'll graduate to raiding your garbage and turn into a problem bear. And I almost always come out on the losing end of that one.

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.


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Mermaid
Feb 17, 2011

More fodder for our governor (in NJ) to allow the bear hunts. Oxford, be a responsible bear lover and eliminate the feeder. :(

outwest
Dec 22, 2010

Bears are enjoyable to watch and its cool to tell your friends you have a bear in your backyard but sooner than later you will have damage to your property. Check your homeowners insurance for bear coverage. You will be amazed at the amount of damage they can do overnight.

Lostfalls
Dec 13, 2010

Yes, I agree with EVERYONE else - stop feeding everything for a couple of years till the bears forget about there being food at all at your place. Neither the deer nor the birds nor the bear will starve and you'll be doing the bear a HUGE favor.

mountaingen
Dec 12, 2010

Friends of mine were canoeing in the boundary waters and "forgot" to hang their food one night. A black bear dragged the Duluth packs full of the group food and chowed on it for hours. In the morning, all that was left was the dry rice and beans. The bear feasted on the grape juice powder and granola, but left the rest! I don't know if this bear was picky, and its heading for diabetes! :)

Its recommended to hang your food or use bear boxes in the Boundary waters. Lesson learned.

Argosinu
Dec 10, 2010

According to BBC videos, Yellowstone bears also climb mountains to eat the cutworm moths.

Frank
Dec 10, 2010

As much as I love seeing bears (and I have had NO problems with them even when I've been walking my dog in the neighborhood - we mostly ignore each other), I agree with discouraging bears by leaving out food for them. I'd rather lose meeting them on the street than have them killed.

Wild animal lover
Dec 09, 2010

It's not a good idea to feed wild animals. People food probably isn't healthy for them and it can change their behavior and make them pests which can be dangerous to both the animal and people.

In many areas bears won't hibernate if they have a steady food supply and will learn to associate houses with food, leading to more break-ins and the killing of "problem" bears.

Deer will lose their fear of humans, hang out and multiply when fed. Thirty years ago it was rare to see deer in my area. Now they are always around, sleeping in the yard, eating the garden (even thorny plants) and chowing down on the food the next door neighbor gives them (sometimes out of hand), then leaving their scat in my yard.

Brand
Dec 09, 2010

Bear,
Thanks for informing Jenny that feeding bears is a bad idea. To put it a little more bluntly, a fed bear is a dead bear.

Jachpo
Dec 09, 2010

It is now illegal to feed deer in many states because of the spread of Chronic Wasting disease.

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