NEAR BRAINERD, Minn. – I have black bears invade my backyard every spring and summer. My bird feeders are the attraction. The bruins help themselves to what I have placed for the birds and often destroy the feeders.
The bears aren’t fussy about what they eat: sunflower seeds, corn, thistle, suet, grape jelly. They even knock down hummingbird feeders and lick the nectar as it spills out.
Recently I complained about the bears to a friend.
“I wish I had black bears coming to my backyard,” she said.
I told her I didn’t mind having the bears around, but that I wished they wouldn’t demolish my bird feeders and eat so much expensive bird seed. Also, it would be nice if they showed during daylight so I could photograph them.
I glanced out a window of my home on a recent sunny afternoon to see a crabapple tree shaking in the wind. But the air was mostly calm. Then I knew the chaos in the tree had to be a black bear, hidden behind multiple branches laden with green leaves and white blooms.
I quickly grabbed a camera. I considered exiting a back door and sneaking around the house, but the slight breeze might have carried my scent toward the bear. So, I crept out the front door as quietly as possible, hoping the bear would not hear me.
Before opening the door I did a quick check of my camera settings, thinking a bear in a crabapple tree in full bloom might make a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
My idea didn’t work. As soon as I exited, the bear quickly departed the tree, rear end first. It came down so fast it might have fallen. Anyway, it sauntered off into the woods apparently no worse for wear.
Because the wind was in my favor I figured I might as well sneak after the bear even though I had little hope of getting into photo range.
I had only gone about 75 yards when I spotted the bear in tall grass underneath a stand of bur oaks 20 yards off. It was meandering about, sniffing, not aware of my presence. Here was my chance.
I raised my camera and began shooting. Thankfully the bear seemed oblivious to the sound of the shutter. The bruin went about its business, and I continued to mine, occasionally stepping right or left as I attempted to get a clear view of the tall grass and shrubs.
Moments later, the bear backed up to a small sapling and began to scratch its rear. The bear rubbed, up and down, the whole time swinging its head from side to side. It was comical.
I knew the still photos would not accurately show the procedure, so I switched my camera to video mode. Still the bear was unaware of me. After several moments of scratching, the bear turned and started to walk away, ending my video, too. (Online at bit.ly/yardbear.)
The bruin was about to amble out of sight, but it turned and walked directly at me. It finally spotted me when it was about 10 yards away, or heard my camera’s shutter, or both. The bear spun around and, with its big paws audibly slapping the ground, it raced with amazing speed through the woods and eventually out of sight.
Black bear sightings in rural backyards, and even in town settings, have been relatively common this spring. It’s possible the area’s dry conditions are affecting their food supply, and they are turning to alternative means.
At no time did I feel threatened during my encounter with the bear. I did not pressure the bear and always allowed it an opportunity to escape.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a wealth of information about problem black bears. Go online to bit.ly/prob_bears.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had bears in my yard either night or day. I neither miss having my bird feeders crushed nor having to clean up piles of bear scat.
However, I will always cherish my mid-May daytime encounter with a black bear.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.