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Keep bears at a distance -- remove bird feeders now

Spring brings blooms, bugs and black bears.

This time of year, bears are leaving their dens and will be searching for food sources to replenish their bodies after eating very little since last fall. To prevent a bear encounter in your backyard, take bird feeders down, bring garbage cans inside and remove outdoor pet foods.

As bears leave dens, they will first pursue water and fresh vegetation to flush their systems. While those foods are abundant and accessible, the calorie-rich offerings of bird seed, garbage, beehives and pet foods are a mighty prize to a hungry black bear.

Allowing bears to eat from food sources near homes can often lead to problems for both the people who live there and the bears. Feeding from these types of food sources can turn bears into repeat visitors that may lose their fear of humans, cause damage to property or create dangerous situations for people, livestock and pets.

“The spring is a critical time to think strategically about your backyards and outdoor spaces.” said Rachel Lincoln, Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife outreach coordinator. “Removing food sources now before they attract wildlife can save you time, money and stress, and keep wildlife safely foraging at a distance for the rest of the year.”

Lincoln said that, fortunately, avoiding problems with bears and other wildlife is easy if you take a proactive approach, and suggested the following steps.

Remove bird feeders. Birds will soon have an abundance of natural food sources available. If you enjoy watching birds in your yard, consider replacing feeders with bird baths or nest boxes or planting native flowers and grasses to attract birds year after year. Visit the Audubon website to learn more about native plants that birds love.

Bring in outdoor pet foods and keep grills and patio furniture clean. A bear’s nose is so strong it can smell food up to a mile away. While you may not be able to smell the spills on your patio, a bear certainly could.

Secure garbage cans indoors overnight. Taking the trash out in the morning may seem inconvenient, but it's far easier than cleaning up scattered trash from a torn bag left out overnight.

Protect beehives and small apiaries with electric fencing. Apiaries – locations where beehives are kept – are a calorie jackpot for bears. Keep your bees and beehives safe by installing an electric fence. Recommendations for fence materials and design can be found here: Protect Your Beehives from Black Bears.

Bears are an essential species in our ecosystems because of their critical roles as seed dispersers. As spring arrives and we spend more time outside, keep in mind that human behavior affects bear behavior. Don’t wait until you see a bear to act. Remove food sources now and keep Michigan’s black bears at a distance.

To learn more about preventing conflicts with bears this spring, visit or contact the DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.

Note to editors: An accompanying photo is available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • Bear_bird feeder: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources encourages northern Michigan residents to remove food sources like bird feeders now to help keep black bears at a distance and prevent bear conflicts.