At breakfast Saturday in the Bayfield, Wisconsin, b&b where we spent the night, the conversation turned to bears. We began with Alaskan bears, the couple with us fresh from an Alaskan birding trip. We soon engaged our host in a discussion of the problems presented by Wisconsin bears if a person wants to feed birds. He has given up on bird feeding because bears ate his seed and destroyed the feeders.
Jude and I are Minnesotans through and through, but we did live in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin for six years, beginning in 1997. One of the reasons I wanted to do that was because of the birds. In the woods, on a lake shore, we would be, and were, surrounded by birds.
I began feeding with a routine city-based system. Those feeders were an easy reach for me when I filled them, a convenience I appreciated. Bears shared my appreciation. They took the feeders off their hooks, emptied and ate the seed, and then often walked off with the feeder itself, for unknown reasons. This pissed me off. We had massive squirrel problems, too (that's big problems with squirrels of the usual size). I bought an electrified feeder to thwart the squirrels. It held a large battery that powered the same kind of device that arms a cow-pasture fence. As you, the squirrel, set your haunches on the feeder tray, and if you then put your little paws on the perch that marked each feed port, you received a wonderfully powerful jolt of electricity. Squirrels would fly off that feeder in a straight line, horizontal to Earth, for 10 or 12 feet before gravity bent their trajectory. I loved that feeder. It hung in a large tree just outside my office window. Each day I wished for squirrels to give it a try.
A bear found the feeder one day, climbed the tree, delivered a stunning blow to this large expensive plastic contraption, and whacked it to the ground. It didn't survive the fall, plus it rolled in clumsy fashion down our shoreline hill and into the lake. I said a bad word.
The idea I got then I believe was original, but I'm not certain. I bought a 15-foot three-inch piece of steel pipe, a bag of ready-mix concrete, a 12-foot piece of four-inch PVC pipe, and various shorter PVC pieces and caps or elbows or whatever they're called. I dug a hole three feet deep, stuck the pipe in, and filled the hole with cement. The idea was to make the pole shake-proof if a bear chose to shake it. I slipped the long PVC piece over the pipe, like a sleeve. Atop the PVC stem I mounted PVC arms, onto which I attached large hooks. I hung a new set of feeders from those arms, putting them out of reach of bears, and, incidentally, me. I had to use a ladder to fill the feeders, always a nuisance, but my customer list was trimmed to birds only, and that pleased me.
It was a success, a story I have shared many times when squirrels enter a conversation with fellow birders. It's sort of a brag. It makes a guy feel good when he outsmarts a clever and determined wild animal.