How do you keep bears away from your bird feeders?
If you’re asking this question, then let me say how sorry I am about your bear problem. 🙂
Luckily, most bird feeding enthusiasts don’t have to deal with bears. But for those that do, it is challenging to continue to feed birds without having bears always ruining the party.
As annoying as squirrels or raccoons can be at a bird feeder, they don’t cause the destruction that a bear can! I have yet to see a bird feeder that wouldn’t be damaged after a bear gets ahold of it. And the strength of a bear means that most bird feeding poles are easily toppled over, allowing these mighty mammals to eat as much bird food as they desire.
But luckily, there is hope.
Today I am going to provide 8 strategies that help keep bears away from bird feeders!
Feeding bears in your backyard isn’t good for anyone. Bears will become accustomed to being around people and homes. And once a bear becomes habituated to people, they are typically killed through NO FAULT of their own.
They also may accidentally hurt someone or a pet or get hit by a car. Not to mention all the damage they will cause to everyone’s property as they search for more easy meals.
Please enjoy! You are one step closer to having a “bear-free” bird feeding station!
Tip #1: Bring in your feeders EVERY night.
Most bears decide to raid feeders under cover of darkness. It’s possible that bears will show up during the day to cause havoc, but these mostly nocturnal mammals prefer to come at night.
An easy way to solve a bear problem is to bring your bird feeders inside each evening. Assuming that your bird food and feeders are in a secure location, the bears won’t have anything to eat, except maybe for a little seed that fell on the ground.
The only drawback to this strategy is that it’s labor-intensive. Every evening before dark, you need to bring your feeders inside and then take them back out every morning. And if you forget even one single day, you risk having bears destroying feeders and ruining all of your hard work.
This strategy is only recommended for the most dedicated and disciplined bird-feeding enthusiasts. And also, be warned that many bears simply adapt and will learn they need to start visiting your feeders during the day (as you can see from the pictures in this article). 🙂
Tip #2: Hang your feeders HIGH.
This strategy is straightforward. Place your bird feeders high enough so that bears can’t reach them!
Now implementing this is a bit trickier. First, if the feeders are too high for a bear to reach, then they are probably too high for you.
How will you go about refilling them?
One idea is to have a long pole near your feeding station, which can be used to take down and put back up the feeders. Another solution is to develop some sort of pulley system that easily adjusts the heights of the feeders.
Once you figure out how to maintain your high feeders, the next question you need to answer is:
What will the feeders hang from?
Even though they are too high for a bear to reach, a bear may just knock over a typical pole that hangs bird feeders! Here are a few ideas on how and where to suspend your feeders.
- This could be some combination of trees, decks, houses, sheds, etc.
Below is an example of feeders suspended between two trees. But as you can see, in this case, the feeders were not hung high enough to stop bears!
B. Hang feeders from tree branches.
- Make sure the tree is large enough that the bear can’t knock it over.
C. Install a large, bear-proof bird feeder pole.
- More information on this is in the next section!
Tip #3: Install a bear-proof bird feeder pole.
If you are serious about feeding birds, then I recommend installing a bear-proof pole. Below you can watch what bears will do to a cheap shepherd hook!
Putting up a pole that bears can’t push down is not for the faint of heart. These mammals are powerful and committed. If they can smell some delicious bird seed, the bears are going to do everything they can to get the free food!
But if you commit the resources, having a feeding station pole that is bear-proof is the way to go. You can enjoy feeding birds without having to worry about the bears destroying and eating everything.
Your first step is securing your pole to the ground. I’d recommend digging a hole as DEEP as you can for the pole and then filling it with concrete. The more secure the pole, the happier you will be long-term. If you use a long wooden post or 4×4, you should wrap it with a stovepipe or some other slippery metal, to prevent the bears from climbing the actual pole.
Make sure you select a long pole. Remember, it needs to be dug underground as deep as possible, while still tall enough to be out of reach of a bear on its hind legs. For reference, here is how tall bears can reach, on average.
- Black bears (Ursus americanus): 5 – 7 feet
- Brown/Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos): Up to 9 feet
- Polar bears (Ursus maritimus): Males stand up to 10 feet tall!
Here are some plans I found for building a bear-proof pole:
- Please note that these plans are designed for automatic wildlife feeders. You may need to modify for bird feeders.
- If you don’t want to build your own, you can buy a pole that is mostly built already. The cost is approximately $600.
Tip #4: Keep the areas underneath your feeders clean.
To keep bears away from bird feeders, you have to take steps to make sure bird food doesn’t accumulate on the ground.
You can have the best bear-proof pole in the world, but if the birds are spilling all the seeds to the ground, bears will still be frequent visitors in your backyard. While it’s true that they won’t be causing damage to the feeders, I don’t know anyone who wants to walk in their yard under the threat of bears!
To prevent food on the ground, pay close attention to your feeders.
Most birds, in general, are messy eaters and will poke through and throw birdseed around, looking for the food they want to eat. You are going to need bird feeders that don’t allow birds to do this!
Many hopper feeders or trays might be bad options, since birds can sit on a platform and have plenty of room to throw food around, leading to some ending up on the ground.
I’d look for feeders where birds have to reach inside to grab a piece of food.
One feeder that I own that would be a good choice is the Absolute II.
The seed is enclosed in the food reservoir and has a metal lip that prevents food from spilling out.
Another way to prevent foods from ending up on the ground is to install a tray underneath the feeders.
Many tube feeders have trays that attach to the bottom. You could also construct some sort of dish or bin that catches fallen seeds.
You could also try only using shelled sunflower seeds.
Here is what I’m thinking. As far as bird food goes, sunflower kernels are the most popular. Almost every bird that comes to feeders loves the stuff. In fact, when birds are looking through a birdseed mix, it’s typically the sunflower they are searching for.
If you only use shelled sunflowers, there will be nothing for the birds to search through, which means they are less likely to throw seeds to the ground. As another benefit, you are going to avoid a mess of shells on the ground, since you are buying this sunflower seed already shelled.
If any sunflower kernels do fall to the ground, they should be quickly gobbled up by ground-feeding birds or a small mammal, before a bear would ever find it!
Put out less food for your birds!
Lastly, if you are still having problems with food falling to the ground, you should put out less birdseed. My recommendation is to only put out enough food so that the birds will be able to eat it all during the day! By the time night comes, the bears won’t have anything left to eat.
Tip #5: Choose foods that are not pleasing to bears.
Unfortunately, bears eat almost anything. They are omnivores and don’t discriminate much in their diet. Out of all the typical foods used in bird feeders, there are only a few I could think of that a bear shouldn’t mess with.
Also commonly called “thistle,” Nyjer seed is a tiny, black seed that grows in Ethiopia or India. Nyjer seed is not actually related to thistle, so you don’t have to worry about it developing into an annoying weed. Goldfinches are known to love feeding on this food.
Bears are not incredibly fond of eating Nyjer seed. I think it’s just too small and tiny for bears to mess with.
This small, hard white seed has a bitter taste. It shouldn’t be a favorite food for a bear. Even squirrels don’t eat it much. Cardinals, grosbeaks, finches (House and Purple), titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and doves all enjoy eating safflower, though.
But as far as foods go, I have another solution that may work.
Use spicy foods to deter bears!
Do you enjoy having habanero peppers all over your food? Or does your face grimace just thinking about the heat you would experience?
The reason that we (people) feel the heat of spicy foods is because of something called capsaicin, which is the active ingredient found in chili peppers that makes them hot and irritating to eat.
But here is the crazy thing:
Only mammals feel the effects of capsaicin! Birds are not affected.
And in case you forgot, bears are mammals. In addition, a bear’s sense of smell and taste is MUCH better than a human’s. I’ve never been able to ask a bear what eating hot chili peppers tastes like, but my guess is that the effects are compounded even more than what humans feel.
Coles Hot Pepper Sunflower Seeds:
Using bird food that has been coated in hot pepper is worth trying. Bears should hopefully take one whiff and not like what they smell. Birds, who don’t have much of a sense of smell or taste, won’t be bothered one bit by the spicy food.
Tip #6: Motion-activated sounds or lights.
Growing up, we had a small ornamental lawn in our backyard, full of koi and shubunkin goldfish. It was awesome to look at, and I have fond memories of throwing worms that I found in for the fish and watching them eat.
There was a time when we had problems with raccoons eating fish. These masked mammals would sneak up at night, wait by the water’s edge, and grab an easy meal. My dad tried many different strategies to deter the raccoons, but I remember clearly what ended up working best.
He found a motion-activated alarm that would make an incredibly LOUD and ANNOYING noise when a raccoon tripped it at night. Our family would be sitting in the living room together when suddenly we would hear the alarm start playing, and we would all run outside to see the tail of a raccoon sprinting into the woods.
The fish were saved, and the raccoons learned quickly that they had to search elsewhere for an easy meal.
You can use this same strategy to scare away bears from your bird feeders!
My recommendation is to place an alarm on your feeder pole, or a tree nearby a few feet off the ground. This way, a bear will surely be tall enough to set it off, but every passing opossum or skunk won’t trip it.
Trust me, these sonic alarms are extremely loud and should scare away a bear. At the very least, you will hear it and be able to make some noise from the safety of your house to encourage the bear to move on.
Recently, I had some trouble with a raccoon climbing up a pole in my backyard, so I purchased the below alarm and put it at the top. It worked like a charm! When the raccoon got to the top, the alarm sounded, and the raccoon jumped off.
What’s nice is that this alarm is solar-powered, so you never have to worry about batteries! There are also different settings so that you can customize the alarm for your specific need. For example, it can be set to ONLY go off at night, so every time you walk by during the day, the alarm doesn’t sound. If you want something quieter, you can also program the product to use flashing lights instead of playing a loud sound.
Tip #7: Inspect your yard for other sources of food.
Make sure there is nothing else appealing in your yard. You don’t want bears coming to check out the bird feeders but then decided to stay because they found additional food sources.
Here are some common things to check out.
- Garbage cans are securely closed and stored inside a garage or barn.
- Grills are cleaned. Bears love some leftover BBQ!
- Hummingbird feeders are out of reach. Bears would greatly appreciate the sugary drink these feeders provide.
- Bird baths. These products can become a problem during times of drought when the bears are looking for water.
Don’t store pet food or birdseed outside!
- Make sure it’s locked away securely inside a shed, garage, or your home.
Tip #8: Bring your feeders down when bears are active.
If you have tried all the strategies on this list to keep bears away from your bird feeders, and you still are having issues, then you may have to concede defeat.
Bears can be dangerous to pets and people. The last thing you want is them being around your home and then becoming accustomed to humans.
It may be necessary to take down your feeders for a while. I know certain feeding enthusiasts don’t feed the birds from around April through October, which is when bears are most active. Once bears have started their long winter’s rest, then it’s OK to bring the feeders back out.
Having problems with bears is not common for most people that feed birds, but for those that do, it’s incredibly challenging to keep them away! It’s also potentially dangerous having these large mammals around.
It’s extremely bad if bears get accustomed to humans, which can easily happen if they find easy meals hanging from feeders. That bear might end up hurting someone while on their property, or the bear will be killed because it keeps coming into close contact with people.
I hope you found some tips you can implement soon!
I’d love to hear about what has worked best for you. Please answer the following question in the comments below.