Black Bear Situations & Solutions

Black Bear drinking from a hummingbird feeder in a yard © Alvin Laasanen
Black Bear at a hummingbird feeder © Alvin Laasanen

Black bears, like numerous other wildlife species, have learned that food is often plentiful where people live. Trash cans, bird feeders, pet food let outdoors, and, occasionally, a grill emitting the sweet smell of steak, chicken, or fish can entice bears.

Allowing bears to access food, garbage, or bird feeders is dangerous to people and to the bears. Once habituated to finding food near homes or campgrounds, bears can become a threat—and, sadly, must often be destroyed. 

Conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace as land is developed in or near bears' preferred habitats. As black bears lose their preferred feeding and denning sites to development, they must move greater distances to find food—and often find it in residential areas. In addition, young black bears are driven from their mother's territory after their second winter, when she is again ready to mate. It's at this time that young bears can show up in unexpected places, including suburban neighborhoods and even on Cape Cod. 

Eliminate or Enclose Food Sources

If a black bear visits a property and finds no food it will most likely move on. If it finds food and the food continues to be available, the bear will frequent the area time and time again.

Bird Feeders

In communities where black bears have been reported, it is risky to put up feeders at any time of year. Once a bear has discovered a food source it will revisit that source month after month.

If you choose to put up a feeder, you can minimize risk by doing so only from mid-December to the end of February, when bears are denned for the winter. More information from MassWildlife >

Gardens, Berry Patches, & Orchards

In the late summer and fall, when bears are "fattening up" in preparation for winter hibernation, bears will consume just about any species of fruit or berry found in orchards and yards. To discourage bears, pick fruit daily as it ripens and before it falls to the ground. Strobe lights, fire crackers, air horns, or loud music will deter black bears, but the location of the light or sound should be moved every few days to confuse the bear.

Electrified, six-foot-high, seven-wire fencing has been used successfully to keep bears away from crops, but this technique may be cost prohibitive for the small grower. In order for an electric fence to be an effective deterrent to bears, the fence must provide a shock of 5,000 to 6,000 volts.

Bee Hives

To a black bear, a bee hive is an easily accessed container of delicious snacks—bee larva and honey. To the apiarists (bee keepers) it's a costly loss of a hive, bee colony, and honey.

Occasionally, bears can be deterred from attacking hives by placing the hives in large open spaces, far away from woods or other areas where they can find cover and feel safe. Some bee keepers have found that strapping a hive together (top to bottom) with one or two heavy-duty ratcheting straps, has been successful. Even if the bear knocks the hive over, the supers do not separate and the bear is unable to get to the honey or larva.

Electric fencing will also exclude black bears from an apiary.

Encountering a Black Bear

Should you come into close contact with a bear, please follow the below steps.

  • If the bear doesn’t see you, slowly and quietly back away while keeping your eyes on the bear, to determine whether or not it’s following you. Never approach a bear to get a better look or to take photos.
  • Do not try to run from a bear or climb a tree. A black bear can do both, and better than you can.
  • If the bear is aware of your presence, make yourself look as large as possible, raise your arms, and hold-up your knapsack or a coat. Sing loudly or speak in a firm, non-threatening voice while backing away.
  • If the bear tries to approach, be aggressive: yell and wave your arms, jump up and down, blow a whistle or horn.
  • An agitated black bear will often huff, stamp its paws, and make a lot of noise to let you know it wants its space. Continue backing away.
  • Should the bear actually attack, roll onto your stomach or curl into the fetal position to protect your abdomen. Wrap your arms around your head to protect your neck and face. Remain on the ground until you’re absolutely sure the bear has moved on.

About Black Bears

The only bear species that makes its home in Massachusetts is the black bear (Urusus americanus). It is the largest meat-eating mammal in New England, occasionally reaching weights of 500 pounds. They also eat berries, nuts, flowers, fruits, and succulent grasses (including corn) as well as garbage.

Black bears hibernate in the winter, but have the ability to wake up should danger strike. When necessary, black bears can run 32 miles an hour and climb trees nearly as fast as a squirrel. They are great swimmers and love to play in water during the warm weather. In the wild they can live to be about 25 years old.

Learn more >