Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Black bears will leave their dens soon


Our friend, Randy, just phoned with news of his just pulling a deer tick off Charlie the Dog in his well-manicured Pittsfield yard.

Q: Any bear sightings from readers yet? Debating if I need to bring in my bird feeders. I remember they came by early last year in spite of the hard winter (or because of it). The weather has been so bizarre this winter, the bears' internal clock must be all messed up.

— Carol Ann, Hinsdale, Mass.

A: I have yet to hear of any local bear sightings, and a phone call to the local MassWildlife office (413-684-1646) confirmed it has not received any reports (as of last Monday).

My opinion is, if you live where bears have been seen in the past, take down your feeder to be on the safe side. It will take more than the bizarre weather to mess with their internal clocks, though.

Information on the MassWildlife website states, "Depending on food availability, bears enter the den between mid-November and early December and exit between early March and mid-April. Bears commonly den in brush piles, under fallen trees or jumbles of rocks, or in mountain laurel thickets. During this period, they sleep soundly, but may wake up and forage in mild weather or they may bolt if frightened."

The information continues, "In mild winters, some bears may be active year-round."

For more information about black bears, go to

Or go to and, toward the bottom of left column, click on Wildlife Fact Sheets. This will bring you to information about black bears and also numerous other wildlife species.

No matter how often we nature and outdoors writers promote DO NOT FEED BEARS, we get reports of individuals purposely putting out food for them, foods like kibble dog food and table scraps. I heard a few years ago of a gentleman (I believe in Peru, Mass.) putting out a bowl of dry dog food on his back porch every day for "his" bear. Every time I think of it, I wonder what the bear might do if for some reason the food isn't there.

Keep the "wild" in "wildlife"

Bears, which become accustomed to humans and dependent on human-associated foods, are likely to cause property damage and become a nuisance. Sometimes, it places the bear in jeopardy of being destroyed because it is no longer afraid of people.

Secure trash in closed containers in a garage or other outbuilding. Put trash barrels out the morning of trash pick up, not the previous evening. Businesses and campgrounds in bear country should consider using bear-proof dumpsters. Remember, bears have terrific memories.

Q: What kind of birds make those large nests way up in trees. We see them all over.

— Al and Leona, Pittsfield

A: Gray squirrels! I been asked this question numerous times through the years, and it's a good one.

These rascals are about the most common mammal we encounter and that brings up the question, where do they all live? The ones that are most problematical are the individuals that make their home within our home, shed or other outbuilding. Others nest in hollow trees we usually call tree dens. Desirable gray squirrel habitat contains mature trees, those likely to provide dens for females to raise young safely.

The leafy nests, sometimes as much as two feet in diameter, and built high in the forks of branches for anchorage, are thought to be cooler and are used as "second" homes ideally during the summer months. In times of a housing shortage, these leafy dreys, as the nests are called, may be used for rearing young, even though they are not as defensible from predators; it would take only seconds for a raccoon to rip into such a nest and consume a vulnerable youngster. Far safer for young, as well as warmer during the cold months, is the tree cavity.

Q: I have two reactions [to last week's column]. Actually, a reaction and a question.

First of all, why would anyone want to kill mourning doves just for sport?

As a source of food, they can't provide much, but to kill for the sake of killing, is not something I can fathom since they do no harm. Even the passenger pigeon, which filled our skies at one time, was driven to extinction by this "sport."

— Michael S., Otis, Mass.

A: First, the passenger pigeon wasn't killed to extinction by sportsmen, it was mostly market hunter that caused this tragedy.

The New England states and New York, do not allow hunting of mourning doves, but in most other states, except a few, people do hunt the birds; about 1 million hunters kill 20 million doves annually.

Some people use them as live targets and don't even retrieve them — some call them "cheep skeet." More mourning doves are shot and killed in this country than any other animal. Few eat the birds.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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