Two former city dwellers learn the eating habits of black bears and songbirds, with a few close encounters along the way!

By:  Douglas Murray    Genre:  Non_Fiction

Where it happened: the front veranda of our house, on the left side, facing south.

Caroline and I moved to Ontario's Bruce Peninsula in the summer of 2009, and opened a Bed and Breakfast near the town of Wiarton. We were immediately entranced by the rich wilderness surrounding our new home. Hundreds of acres of bush stretched in all directions, beckoning us to get out there and explore. We were informed by the locals that several black bears were regular inhabitants of the Wiarton area. However, our nearest neighbour, who has lived here for 12 years, informed us that he'd never seen one, so our fears were put to rest.
Our thoughts turned to other inhabitants of the forest: we quickly discovered a multitude of songbirds, their ranks ebbing and flowing with the seasons. We began feeding these chatty little folks, since our B&B customers loved to hear them in the morning, and watch them through the window at breakfast. I built a fancy bird feeder on our front lawn, held up with a smooth steel pole, 7 feet high, to keep the chipmunks and squirrels away. Four feeders could be hung on it at the same time. What an attraction it became!
In April 2010, after a windy night, our big bird feeder was broken and lay toppled on the grass one morning. The feeders were in disarray. I examined the torn steel welds and remarked to Caroline, "That was some windstorm!". I fixed the welds and we erected the feeder again.
That evening, Caroline went outside to put Zee, our dog, into his doghouse for the night. This is a nightly ritual that Zee knows well; he usually saunters into the bush, relieves himself, and then comes running back to get into his doghouse for the night.
This night was different. Zee froze in his tracks at the edge of the veranda. In the pitch blackness, Caroline found herself halfway across the veranda, hands on the handrail, almost nose to nose with what she at first thought was a large dog. Zee shot past Caroline, through the still-open veranda door, and back into the house. Peering into the inky darkness, Caroline realized in a flash she was face to face with a large black bear, now standing at full height, and separated from her only by a flimsy wood handrail! In this terrifying moment she was aware of the bear's pungent, foul smell and piercing eyes, assessing her with the casual regard a grocery store shopper might have while inspecting food.
It was Caroline's lucky night. The bear, having gorged himself on four niger-filled bird feeders, was not interested in her at all. He slowly turned around and dropped on all fours, then lumbered away from the veranda, and melted into the deeper shade of the forest. It was all over in a moment.
Caroline entered the house ghostly pale and trembling. It was a few minutes before we could extract the whole story from her. When she regained her composure, she called Zee and reprimanded him for his shameful abandonment, without so much as a bark. Some watchdog!
The next morning, to add insult to injury, we found that our front lawn was liberally peppered with noxious bear poop, like a smelly thank-you card for our services. For obvious reasons, we henceforth began collecting our bird feeders every evening, and storing them inside the house at night. We have since had very little trouble with this bear. Folks, don't leave bird feeders out at night!

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