The phone rang just as I was headed out the door. The sun was shining and I was anticipating several hours in the garden. After a long snowy winter, spring was finally here, and cleaning up the perennial plants for a new summer had become one of my favourite annual jobs.
I considered letting the call go to voicemail. And then, for some reason, I put my snippers, pruners, weed fork and light-duty gloves down on the table and picked up the phone.
“Oh, hi Catherine! This is your neighbour—Linda. I just wanted to let you know there’s a bear headed your way.”
We don’t see a lot of bears in our area, but every now and again one shows up. This one, my neighbour explained, had been around their place since the night before. It had even gone onto their deck and looked in their window. The bears were just waking up … and they were hungry.
We spoke for a few minutes … it was a black bear, a fairly good size. I told Linda I would call her back if there were any problems because, of course, my husband had just driven away with a list of errands to do in town, taking the dogs with him for the ride.
There wasn’t really anything to do but wait, so I kept an eye out the window in the direction of our neighbour’s house, and five minutes later the bear wandered into our yard. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a surprise. It was a healthy-looking bear and was in no hurry.
It wandered around, checking things out. It strolled around the dog pen. It took particular interest in a wheelbarrow … Had someone eaten something tasty and then grabbed the handle the bear was sniffing at? Nose in the air, the bear caught another scent (please—not the barbeque on the front porch!).
Oddly enough, it was the bird feeder the bear focused on next. Black-oil sunflower seeds? Or then again, maybe the crust of an old sandwich I’d made into crumbs for the chickadees. (Our homemade feeder is a flat board, with a bit of an edging and a three-foot-wide squirrel barrier tacked all the way around it, nailed onto a 4 x 4 post, about five feet above the ground. It is mere feet away from our house.) After circling it once or twice, the bear stood up on its hind legs and put its front paws up on the board.
With its front paws firmly on the feeder board, the bear placed its back paws on the 4 x 4 and hauled itself past the squirrel barrier and up onto the feeder! It sat down, then laid down, stretching out around the center post, and started licking up the sunflower seeds between its front paws. If I hadn’t been so nervous, I would have been laughing.
Other than the seeds it was currently eating, the bear was lying on top of the rest of them. Not a problem … Once it finished the first serving, it climbed down off the feeder, walked around to the other side and climbed up again, sitting in a different spot. This happened four times. Seeds were clinging to its fur.
By now, the bear had been around for … I don’t know … 20 minutes? Half an hour? It was almost finished with the seeds, and I started to wonder what it would do next. I called my neighbour.
“Hi Linda, it’s Catherine. The bear is still here and seems pretty comfortable … right now it’s lying on my bird feeder.”
“It’s lying on your bird feeder?”
“Yes, it climbed up and is lying right on it.”
“I’m sending my husband over, okay? He’ll drive up and honk the horn and that should scare it off.”
I had bear spray, bear bangers and an air horn, right by my door, but the idea of another person being around seemed like a good plan—and it worked. The sound of the vehicle didn’t seem to bother the bear at all, but when the horn blared, it hustled off the feeder, turned tail and ran into the woods. Thankfully it was still at least a little skittish! After several minutes of being followed at a distance, it moved on altogether.Our visitor hasn’t returned, but we remain cautious. I am reminded of the bear in Alaska that walked up a set of outdoor stairs, onto a second-level balcony, and reeled in the clothesline to grab the bird feeder suspended in the middle. Bears are agile, quick and curious. They can be determined and dangerous. But from what I’ve seen, at least they can’t fly.