In hopes of bears having a calendar in their dens, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recommends Vermonters wait to put up bird feeders until December 1 to avoid attracting bears.
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“Winter bird feeding is a good way to attract birds arriving from Canada, including evening grosbeaks and purple finches, as well as resident birds including northern cardinals and black-capped chickadees,” said Doug Morin, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s bird project leader. “Black oil sunflower is a good seed choice that will attract a variety of birds. Adding other seeds or suet can help to attract certain species. Thistle, for example, attracts many of the finches. Gardeners will find leaving late-blooming flowers uncut provides seeds which can also attract birds.”
While watching your bird feeders, you can participate in one or more bird monitoring projects by looking up the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch -- all three collect important information for understanding bird populations.
The Fish and Wildlife Department offers these tips for bird-friendly bird feeding:
- Keep cats inside. Domestic cats are the leading cause of bird death in North America, and feeders can make birds particularly easy prey.
- Place feeders closer than 4 feet or farther than 10 feet from a window. Being close to, or far from, a window may reduce bird collisions.
- Clean feeders regularly. To eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses, feeders should be washed every few weeks with a 10 percent bleach solution, then rinsed and allowed to dry before refilling.
- Feed birds only between December 1 and April 1 but remove feeders if you see signs of bears. Most bears should be in dens during this time, but some delay entering their dens while even those that have denned may re-emerge to feed if there is a period of warm weather. Bears that learn to get food from people will continue to do so, potentially leading to property damage and dangerous encounters with people which can result in the bear’s demise.
Feeding birds, even in the winter, runs the risk of attracting bears. During winter thaws some bears will occasionally take advantage of the mild weather and leave their den in search of food. If a bear visits your bird feeder or the feeder of someone in your community, it is important to take down your feeder for a week. If the bear can’t find easy food it will quickly return to its winter den.