Feeding the Birds, and Occasionally the Bears, too

This year, I have been attempting to feed the birds through the summer. Usually I only leave feeders out in the winter, and as I've written here, I often have numerous chickadees, nut hatches, and some finches. It is quite enjoyable to see all of these little creatures crowding in for sunflower seeds. So far this spring, I've had lots of purple finches, some vibrant gold finches, a few nuthatches and chickadees, chipping sparrows and even an indigo bunting. And of course, the hummingbirds are here. They've been back for about a month now.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my stash of sunflower seeds had been disrupted: The large can in which I keep them had been tipped over. The lid was off, but most of the seeds were still there. This was the same morning that the garbage shed had been invaded, so evidently the bear had decided to look for fresher food than the bags of leftovers in the cans. But something must have scared it off before finishing the seeds. I put the lid on the can, and resolved to remember to bring it, and the feeder, in before I went to bed that night.

Of course, I forgot. I'm fifty now, and they tell me it will only get worse. At two a.m. I remembered, but only after hearing the ruckus on the porch, one story down from my bed. I got up, muttering something about "....that darned bear...", and Greg joined me in my pursuit. We turned on the outside lights, and saw a small bear across the driveway, standing up to reach the feeder on a pole. And there on the porch, half-buried in the tin can of sunflower seeds, was the mama. To my surprise, there was a second little one sitting next to her, loudly crying. We watched for a few moments, long enough to see her get upset with the crybaby. She pulled her head out of the can and let out a very fierce reproach that startled even me, on the other side of the window. At this point, we knew that it was time to put an end to the antics, so Greg moved toward the door, and then rapped on the window. I snapped open and shut another window, and all of that noise was enough to scare the mama and baby on the porch. The mom took off running down the steps, and baby two quickly climbed down the post. They dashed across the driveway, joined baby one, and headed off into the woods. Greg and I brought the can inside, but left the feeder, since it was now in three pieces on the ground, empty of seed.

A half hour later, they were back. Greg said something about "that mama needing some negative reinforcement." She was back up on the porch, this time further in to the front, screened area. We have two other cans out there, but one contains charcoal, the other has grass seed in it. Again we rapped on the windows and she started to run off the porch. Greg threw a chunk of firewood at her, and she ran across the driveway. Meanwhile, the baby near her had climbed into the pine tree just off the corner of the porch. I was ready with the camera, and Greg got two good pictures of the little one before it scampered away with the rest of the family.

(Note: Trouble uploading pictures--I'll try again later.)

Fortunately, that negative reinforcement did the job. They didn't return that night. I've heard that it takes three weeks to change a habit. Why then, does it only take two nights for a bear to pick up the habit of looking on our porch for sunflower seeds? Paul says he sometimes hears them return in the late evening, make a run up the porch to check things out, then head off into the night.