For the Birds Radio Program: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Original Air Date: Oct. 9, 1992

What’s the best way to get rid of a pesky bear? Laura developed a novel approach. 3:42 (with music, The Bare Necessities, 4:02) Date verified.

Audio missing


I recently received an interesting letter from Marie Cora, who lives in Saginaw. Like many country people, she’s had to completely change her bird-feeding operations for a spell because of bears.

Whenever I hear people complaining about squirrels, I know that their experiences with mammals are pretty limited. After having a good, expensive bird feeder destroyed by a raccoon or a bear, a person usually feels downright grateful to have nothing worse than squirrels. When you have bears, you either give up on feeding altogether or you have to bring in your feeders every night. Forget just one time and in the morning the metal pipe supporting the feeder will be bent to the ground and the feeder, unlike the bear, will be gone forever.

There have been a few bears visiting Hawk Ridge this fall. The banding station’s been having lots of trouble with them, especially when they’re catching warblers in mist nets. Although the nets are never left unattended for more than a few minutes before removing the little birds for banding and release, at least one bear has figured out the system and finds the little morsels clinging to the nets right tasty. Even when the bear leaves the birds alone, he leaves slippery reminders all along the trails, which make running along the paths treacherous. And once a bander has stepped into a bear pile, the tiny and close banding station becomes unpleasantly fragrant.

The DNR’s been looking to find solutions for the Hawk Ridge bear problem, partly for us and partly because Rockridge Elementary School is right below the main overlook. This new school has only kindergarteners and first graders, most of which are littler than the youngest bear cubs around right now, and so some teacher and parents are becoming a bit nervous.

I came up with my own personal bear solution when I was serving as the official counter in August. One afternoon when I was up there with three little nighthawks and no car, I suddenly noticed a fairly large bear right across the narrow road from me, posing photogenically as he sniffed some purple flowers on the edge of the road. The bear was right pretty, with a gorgeous, glossy coat, and I’d just as soon have watched it for a while if I hadn’t had Ginger along. I was afraid a hurt nighthawk would smell mighty attractive to a bear, so I quickly put all three nighthawks in their pet carrier. The bear looked up and sniffed with interest, and seemed about to waddle over for a better look.

I’m not the kind of person who gets scared easily, and I figured neither was the bear. I didn’t particularly want to frighten him away, or even hurt his feelings. I just wanted him to leave of his own volition.

Now when it comes right down to it, bears are pretty much like fifth grade kids. So I gave this bear my standard lecture on nighthawks—how to distinguish adult males from females and immatures from adults, what their winter range is in South America, and even a bit on their feeding habits. Sure enough, like any normal fifth grader, this bear found my discussion boring, but like any well-mannered fifth grader, he was too polite to say so. He just waited for a slight lull in the conversation, turned around, and waddled into the woods. Knowing how and when to cultivate boredom can be a mighty useful skill.