Bird feeders feed bears

A picture of a black bear eating from a bird feeder
A black bear (Ursus americanus) eats bird seed out of a hanging bird feeder.
Photo by Alvina Spence / Getty Images

Bird feeders are setup for many reasons: supporting birds through winters, bringing many feathered visitors to a yard, and simply out of enjoyment. But come spring, particularly in British Columbia, bird feeders can have significant unintended consequences.

Major Attractant

Bird feeders attract not just birds, but many species in an ecosystem. Spilled seed – and the emptied shells of seed – attract rodents like mice and rats. It also attracts opportunists like raccoons, squirrels, and coyotes. And, significantly, bird feeders are a major attractant for black bears.

Bird seed may not sound like something a black bear would enjoy, but those seeds are chock full of nutrients, fats, and protein – exactly what bears want. There is no way to offer bird seed and keep other wildlife away, particularly during busy seasons like spring and fall, when animals are looking for extra calories.

The Consequences

Celebrating the sight of a bear in our yards is common for animal lovers, but the repeated presence of large wildlife like black bears can lead to various concerns. In British Columbia, bears considered “food conditioned” by returning to human (anthropogenic) food sources are killed by government agents.

A pair of black bear (Ursus americanus) cubs wander through a meadow.
Photo by Jillian Cooper / Getty Images

Hundreds of black bears are killed every year – often due to attractants that go unmanaged, such as accessible bird seed, unsecured garbage, outdoor pet food, and food waste. This is a crisis that can be stopped by communities recognizing the impact of attractants and taking simple steps to keep wildlife safe.

Feeding wildlife like bears and coyotes is an offense under the Wildlife Act in British Columbia, and numerous municipalities or local governments have by-laws that address feeding and attractants. Significant fines can be levied against individuals and property owners who fail to manage attractant issues.

How To Support Birds

Birds still need support, but a bird feeder can cause significant issues within ecosystems (including urban ones). How can you help the birds?

  • Consider planting native shrubs and trees to create habitat and food sources for birds (be aware that some berry plants are considered attractants for bears).
  • Plant native wildflowers as they provide habitat for insect species birds rely upon, and act as a food source for some bird species.
  • Build and install a bird house – this can be a fun activity for the whole family or hobbyists. Premade bird houses are also available.
  • Add bird friendly stickers to windows at home and elsewhere. Millions of birds are killed every year due to window strikes as they’re unable to see the glass. These simple products help birds see the glass and prevents strikes.
  • Connect with a local birdwatching or naturalist group. There are often local projects supporting birds and their habitats across Canada that need passionate members and volunteers like you!
  • Keep cats indoors or build a catio to ensure they can experience nature while keeping birds, wildlife, and the cats safe.
  • If you keep a bird feeder, remember to remove it when black bears are active (typically March through November or December).

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