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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.
Got a question for the bear? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.