UF researchers offer tips on keeping black bears away

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Imagine eating 38 Big Macs in one day. That’s what a black bear can consume – up to 20,000 calories a day. And, the animals are known to scavenge for food wherever they can find it, including garbage cans and bird feeders.

Now, researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences offer tips on how to keep black bears out of your yard and food sources. There are approximately 4,000 bears in Florida, and the black bear is the only species of bear found in Florida.

“With the weather getting warmer, bears have started to move around in search of food,” said Ethan Noel, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who conducted his graduate research on black bears while a master’s student at UF/IFAS. “The goal is to reduce conflict between humans and bears, and the best way to do that is to eliminate [human-provided] sources of food.”

Trash is the number one reason bears wander into residential areas, said Elizabeth Pienaar, Noel’s adviser and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of wildlife ecology and conservation. “The bears are attracted by the smell of garbage,” she said. “They know it contains a lot of calories. They are also attracted by the seed they know they can find in bird feeders. They’re searching for food.”

Pienaar said securing trash against bears is crucial to managing interactions with the animals. “Bear-resistant trash containers are an excellent way to keep trash secure from bears,” she said.

The cans look just like standard trash containers with wheels, but bear-resistant cans have a special locking mechanism on the lid that humans can open, but bears can’t, Pienaar said. “Nevertheless, homeowners need to consult with their waste service provider to make sure they will let the homeowner use the bear-resistant can, she said.

Also, bird seed is a major food attractant to bears, Noel said. Bears are excellent climbers and can access bird feeders that are suspended from trees, he said. Noel offers a few tips:

  • Secure bird feeders at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from any attachment points. Feeders can be suspended from cable systems.
  • Place a catch pan under your bid feeder (mounted under the bird feeder). This prevents seeds from scattering on the ground, so you don’t attract bears to your yard.
  • Put shelled seeds in the bird feeder, because shells from seeds will attract bears.
  • Only put a single day’s worth of feed out at a time.
  • Bears prefer to move about at night, so bring unsecured bird feeders inside at night.
  • Consider removing bird feeders altogether. Bird baths and other water sources are good ways to entice birds to visit your yard/garden without attracting bears.

To learn more about managing black bear interactions, click here and here.

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By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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