Andrew Timmins: (603) 788-3164
Jay Martin: (603) 271-3211
October 19, 2018

bears with bird feeders Joel Rhymer 1 free-to-use
Photo courtesy of  Joel Rhymer

CONCORD, NH – The Granite State’s bear population is actively preparing for their denning period and on the move in search of high-fat, protein-rich food sources to sustain them through the winter. With a state-wide shortage of hard mast crops this year, such as beechnuts and acorns, an increasing number of bears are turning to residential areas for food. As a result, officials are asking the New Hampshire public to be both proactive and responsible by holding off on putting out bird feeders until December. Additionally, residents can help to avoid conflicts by removing bird feeders, securing dumpsters and garbage cans, and removing other backyard attractants. Although November is considered the start of winter bird feeding activity for many, increasingly mild autumns and the often-late arrival of winter conditions warrant modifications to prevent human-bear conflicts.

“We are experiencing a very poor food year throughout the state this fall and bears are desperate for any available nourishment,” said Andrew Timmins, Bear Project Leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “During a typical year, bear sightings in residential areas are low to nonexistent during the fall. However, the lack of natural food this year has caused bears to frequent these areas in search of high-quality, human-related foods such as black-oil sunflower seed.”

Reports of bear activity and sightings have become frequent in recent days and many people are reporting seeing bears at their bird feeders, according to Timmins. By taking action now, you can prevent attracting a hungry bear to your home this fall. Do not wait for a bear to raid the bird feeder or feed from a dumpster and then respond. Doing so encourages foraging behavior by bears near residences. A single food reward will cause the bear to return and continue to search the area for food, no matter the season. Averting conflicts with bears requires proactive behavior by the public. Feeding birds at this time of year puts bears at incredible risk.

Bear-human conflict mitigation is far more successful when people are preemptive, and it is easier to avoid a conflict rather than resolve one. “Bears have an extremely acute sense of smell and long memories,” said Timmins, “so we really need the cooperation of residents.”

Despite continued pleas asking homeowners not to feed birds during the non-winter months, bird feeders typically are the direct cause of 25% of annual bear-human conflicts. In addition to bird feeders, other attractants that contribute significantly to conflicts include unprotected chickens and other poultry (23%) and unsecured garbage cans/dumpsters (38%). “If the public would be willing to address these three common attractants, we could quickly reduce annual bear-human conflicts by 70-80%, which would be tremendous,” said Timmins.

Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:

  • Birdfeeders should not put out until December once bear activity slows.
  •  Stop all bird feeding by April 1 or at the onset of extended spring-like weather  conditions, whichever comes first.
  •  Clean up any spilled birdseed and dispose of it in a secured trash container.
  • Secure all garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or adequate storage area, and   put garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before. If using a dumpster, inform your provider that you need a dumpster with metal locking tops and doors that are inaccessible to bears and other wildlife.
  • Avoid putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
  •  Don’t leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
  •  Clean and store outdoor grills after each use.
  • Finally, never deliberately feed bears!

These steps will help to ensure that your backyard does not become attractive to bears and other wildlife, which is important because it prevents property damage by bears and keeps bears from becoming nuisance animals.

For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, visit

If you have questions about bear-related problems, you can get advice by calling a toll-free number coordinated jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).