Trouble bruin: Spring brings hungry bears out of hibernation looking for food

A bear and her three cubs wandered into Park Forest in June 2013.
A bear and her three cubs wandered into Park Forest in June 2013. CDT file photo

If you wake up one morning to find your bird feeder torn apart, there may be a simpler explanation than old-fashioned vandalism.

The culprit is likely a black bear.

A bear has been raiding bird feeders in the College Heights area and off Blue Course Drive, Centre Wildlife Care rehabilitator Robyn Graboski said. At least one person has photographed it, and several feeders have been destroyed.

“If bears find free food, they’re going to take advantage of it,” she said. “They’re not dumb. If you’re putting bird feeders out for hungry animals, you’re essentially providing bait.”

The biggest concern is a bear becoming accustomed to raiding feeders in a particular area, she said. The more people leave food out, the more the bear will take advantage.

This is a habit we want to break, she said.

But seeing bears in the area is not uncommon for this time of year, she said. Centre County is a very rural region with a lot of wildlife.

There have been no reports of bear sightings by the State College or Ferguson Township police departments.

Bears destroying feeders is a recurring issue in State College, Game Commission wildlife conservation officer Mike Steingraber said. Typically, the biggest pushes are in spring and fall, during the times when a bear is either waking up from hibernation or preparing to go into it.

Right now, he said, because it’s getting warmer, they’re going to start coming into this area with a lot more frequency.

The only reason they come into the area is to eat from bird feeders, he said, and there is an abundance of feeders in the area. The only sure way to keep this from happening is to remove the food source.

Steingraber advises residents to take down feeders in for the next two to four weeks until the bear moves on. As a compromise, he said, it would be alright to have a feeder out during the day and taken in during the night, but after a period of time a bear might adjust its feeding time and start raiding during the day.

There is also a question of legality. According to Steingraber, it’s technically illegal for residents to continue to put feeders out knowing that they have bears coming into the area.

“If someone knows there’s a bear in the neighborhood and they continue to put food out for it, that’s unlawful,” he said. “You cannot feed bears. It’s one of the animals in Pennsylvania that it’s illegal to feed.”

Trapping bears and transporting them out of the area does little, he said. Centre County, and Pennsylvania at large, is bear country, he said. There’s not a place they can transport the bears where they won’t interact with people.

A bear in a residential area shouldn’t pose a danger to people or pets, he said. It’s very rare for bears to attack people without additional circumstance, like someone getting between a mother and her cubs.

“We have no reason to believe there is any human threat here,” he said.