Feeders allowed only in winter; officials expect bear to hibernate when it runs out of easy meals
By Kaya Williams
Snowmass Village residents Michael Rusinek and Nancy Goeres found an unexpected ursine visitor on their lower deck recently when they spotted a bear cub making himself at home long after he should have tucked in for the winter.
The cub “fit perfectly” in an old sectional couch on the deck, Goeres said, and at one point looked to be tucking himself in with sofa stuffing that made for one very cute video Rusinek recorded from inside the house and posted on YouTube.
As for why the bear was out and about so late this year, Rusinek and Goeres got a clue from the droppings the cub left outside their home and some additional information from Lauren Martenson, the Snowmass Village Animal Services officer who responded to their report.
“The scat was just solid bird food,” Rusinek said. “It was solid bird seed.”
The cub has found such abundant food supplies in bird feeders that he has stayed out and about — in yards, on porches and around neighborhoods — well past his hibernation bedtime, Martenson said in an interview Tuesday.
The area’s bears usually hibernate around mid-November as their food sources start to run low, according to Martenson. This cub was last seen Dec. 23; the town’s animal services team anticipates that a combination of the recent winter storms and a community commitment to keeping bird feeders out of reach have helped nudge the bear into hibernation, she said.
“We’re hoping our messaging about bird feeders — trying to have folks pull their bird feeders — and the recent snowfall have helped him find a nice den to spend the winter in. … It’s not necessarily temperature- or precipitation-driven, although that does seem to help. But it’s more driven by the supply of the food source,” Martenson said.
This little bear’s food sources have been more than available throughout the late fall and early winters, thanks first to seasonal pumpkins and then to the bird feeders; a bird feeder filled with about a pound of black oil sunflower seeds can contain 2,000 calories or more.
Snowmass Village regulations allow bird feeders only in the winter because they are such strong bear attractants. That could change, though, to help bears such as this winter’s precocious cub hibernate when they’re supposed to, Martenson said.
“Between mid-April and mid-November, feeders need to be suspended and inaccessible and beneath them kept free of debris, and typically that doesn’t apply in the winter months, as most bears are hibernating,” she said, “but we’re actually looking to potentially change that to be more of a year-round ordinance in case we encounter situations like this again.”
That doesn’t mean a ban on bird feeders entirely, though: “We don’t want to deny people the joy of bird watching, especially in the winter,” Martenson said.
Beyond bird feeder monitoring and a bit of discouragement to help the bear kick his seed-munching habit, there won’t be much impact to the community or to the bear, Martenson said. Although this cub is roaming solo — officials aren’t sure what happened to the mother bear — he seems to be doing just fine on his own.
“We believe that nature will help this bear succeed. And given that he looks healthy, as soon as that food source disappears, his instinct to hibernate will kick in and he’ll find a nice den,” Martenson said.