Bears! Oh, My!

Bears sightings are in the west are common and increasing across the northeast. Mountain lion sightings and encounters are well documented in Los Angeles, CA.
A guest blog by Susan Fehsinger, New Hampshire
“I’ve spent most of my life in southern New Hampshire. Growing up, we never heard of bears being anywhere near our area, but their population has been growing rapidly. Now, we hear of them regularly. Our first live rural sighting was about 15 years ago. Since then, we either have seen them or evidence of them at least once a year.
“We live in the country on 16 acres and the nearest house is about 300 feet away across the road. There is plenty of bear habitat and they are becoming very common. Last year I was taking a walk along a class 6 road (a road that is not maintained any longer but is often used) when a black bear strolled up from the river and across the road about 30 yards ahead. I froze. S/he turned and looked at me for a long 10 or 15 seconds before continuing into the woods. Did I have my phone? Yes. Did I think to snap a photo? Nope.
“One morning this spring about 6:45, when the sky was fully light, I began to hear noises and thought our cat was running around upstairs. After a while, though, I looked out the window which opens onto our screen porch. Two bears were tearing into the stone retaining wall at its foundation. They were pulling out the seeds that the chipmunks had stored there. Both were fully grown and one of them was the largest I have ever seen in this area. The strangest part of this experience was that they didn’t spook at all. I called my husband and we both stood at the glass door taking pictures and talking.
“The population of our small town is growing, yet we are seeing more wildlife that used to be rare. I saw my first bobcat a year or so ago, also. It’s great to know that wildlife is doing well and large predators are around. We humans just need to be aware of potential danger — for us in case of a confrontation, and for them, if our behavior causes them to habituate to people. Fish and Game does not want to have to kill an animal that’s only crime is looking for food that we provide them.
“Beginning in early spring we are told to bring in bird feeders (and in my case stop using the screen porch as an extra refrigerator!) It’s definitely good advice because bears are excellent at finding any and all available food. Usually, the ones we see in early spring are females with cubs, and they can be very dangerous if a human  gets between “mom” and her little ones. The fact that “my” bears were digging into a stonewall to get at seeds stored by chipmunks underlies how good they are at their job — feeding themselves and their cubs. We can learn to outsmart them, but they’ve been perfecting their food-finding skills for a long time and their senses are much better than ours. We have to become aware and vigilant so we can enjoy the fact that they’re here among us — just not too close.”
Check out these links below about bears, habitat and behaviors. Many of these sites refer to “wild” places like parks and the North Woods. And, remember that the advice on respecting bears, keeping your distance, and storing food all to avoid bear encounters is similar and are great tips for suburban and urban dwellers.

The Best of Seeds and the Worst of Seeds

Three main types of feed

Sunflower seed, cracked corn and Milo mix.

Cold weather in the northern hemisphere and the Holiday Season everywhere are upon us and many gifts for bird lovers fill store shelves. But, shopping for seeds to fill the backyard feeder can be confusing and even frustrating. Many types of seed and mixes are for sale. Some blends are designed to attract specific species, like cardinals, while others target a diversity of birds. Cheap blends appeal mostly to house sparrows and blackbirds, species most people prefer to not attract.

Winding Pathways suggests keeping seed buying simple. We have a favorite seed, one we avoid, and one that we use in a special way. We rarely buy cheap mixes that song birds really do not like and that are sold in big box, chain and grocery stores at inflated prices. Farm stores often sell better mixes at lower cost. Neither of these types of stores have knowledgeable staff to help new comers to winter bird feeding. Specialty bird feeding stores offer the highest quality seed and staff up-to-date in what song birds feed on. And, yes, you pay a bit more – and we find it worth the cost. Less wasted seed and higher satisfaction for homeowners and the birds!

THE BEST SEED FOR WILD BIRDS

Sunflower

Sunflower delivers the highest quality feed for wintering birds.

Of the many outstanding seeds for feeding birds we like black oil sunflower the best. It’s relatively inexpensive and devoured by chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, and many other species. We don’t mind that birds drop hulls to the ground but for people who dislike this mess, hulled sunflower seed can be purchased and is excellent. It is kernels of larger culinary sunflower seeds, sometimes called gray stripe seed.  Hulls have been removed and seed is much more expensive but loved by birds. Most sunflower seeds are produced on farms in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

THE WORST SEED

Milo

Songbirds do not like the cheap mix.

The worst seed is Milo. It is a common ingredient in cheap mixes and sometimes is sold as “bird seed.”   Milo is grown on arid land in the Great Plains and is mainly used for livestock feed. The young plant looks like corn but unlike corn its seeds form at the top of the plant. Few birds like the astringent seeds, although they will sometimes eat it if nothing else is available and they are hungry. Less desirable species, like house sparrows and blackbirds will eat it. Milo seeds are round, slightly reddish, and about twice the size of somewhat similar millet.  Try to avoid it.

IN BETWEEN SEEDS

Cracked Corn

An inexpensive alternative to the higher quality feed.

An excellent inexpensive seed that will be eaten by many birds is cracked corn. Desirable birds prefer sunflower seeds, but we often sprinkle some cracked corn on the ground to keep sparrows and wild turkeys happy and, hopefully, away from our sunflower seed.  Another seed of “in between” value is millet. These are tiny round white or yellowish seeds often found in inexpensive mixes. Mourning doves, juncos and other ground feeders enjoy eating it. So do house sparrows.

Learning to identify seeds helps a customer purchase the best seed at the lowest cost. Reading labels helps as most manufacturers list the contents of their seed packages.   Happy Holidays to you and the birds you love to feed!

Managing Pests

Most people love watching wildlife in their yards, and millions set out bird feeders and improve habitat to encourage colorful and fascinating animals. But there’s a limit.

See a mouse scurry across the floor or find their droppings on the kitchen counter and most families quickly set snap traps to kill the pests. Although there are ways to reduce or prevent most wildlife problems that usually should be tried first, sometimes it’s necessary to kill an animal.

Take woodchucks, for example. These large mammals are capable climbers and powerful diggers. They tunnel under any fence they can’t climb over. A woodchuck’s sweet tooth is      the family garden and they readily clear cut carrots, peas, beans, corn, chard and most other crops.

A few July’s ago our garden looked superb. We were harvesting crops like beans, squash, beets and chard.   One afternoon we went out to pick a few dinner vegetables and were astonished to find the beans nearly eaten to the ground, the chard gone and the beet tops nibbled to nubbins. It wasn’t the raid of a woodchuck. A whole family of chucks had chosen to squeeze under the fence and convert our garden into their lunch.

We do what we can to prevent or reduce damage. The garden has a sturdy fence around it that keeps deer and rabbits out, but with their superior climbing and digging ability we found that keeping chucks out is nearly impossible.

Our garden is a vital part of our family’s food supply so raiding woodchucks gets the same treatment as a mouse in the kitchen. Fortunately, our home is situated where it is legal and safe to shoot an occasional garden raider. Millions of homeowners live on acreages where they can legally dispatch pests. But it must be done safely. Having a low power firearm or airgun handy can be a garden savior.

We use both a .22 caliber rifle and a .22 caliber airgun both to dispatch an occasional pest and for target practice. Again, shooting a pest is a last resort that we use only when prevention fails, but normally we have to do in a few woodchucks every year.

HOW FIREARMS AND AIRGUNS WORK

Airguns and firearms  have similarities and differences. Each relies on air pressure to push a projectile (bullet or pellet) out the barrel and onward to its target. Each can be a safe, effective, and humane tool for dispatching pests but must be used with great care and moderate skill.

When someone pulls a firearm’s trigger a pin strikes the primer of a loaded shell. The impact causes the primer to create a spark that ignites gunpowder. Rapidly burning powder creates tremendous air pressure that pushes the bullet out the barrel.

Pull the trigger on an airgun and high pressure air, already inside, pushes the projectile forward without an explosion of gunpowder. The pressure is generated before shooting by either pumping the barrel or a lever or by inserting a cartridge of pressurized carbon dioxide.

DEVELOPING SHOOTING SKILL

Appropriate airguns and .22 rifles are capable of quickly and humanely dispatching small pests but each can cause severe injury or even death of a person. They must be used with skill and care. Winding Pathways owners Rich and Marion Patterson have extensive experience with firearms. She grew up in rural New Hampshire in a family that hunted for food and also occasionally needed to dispatch a pest raiding their huge garden. He learned shooting during a stint in the army. Many homeowners lack shooting skills and safety knowledge.  A good way to gain both is to enroll in a hunter safety course offered in most areas. To locate a class check Where to Hunt.  Instructors help novices learn safety and accurate shooting. Many shooting ranges also offer training and are excellent and safe places to practice, sometimes with a coach to help out. To locate a range near your home access Where To Shoot.

Accurate shooting is essential for humane and safe pest control. A precise shot to the vitals will instantly kill a woodchuck while a poor shot will only wound the animal and cause suffering.    Develop skill and practice!

.22 RIFLES

At Winding Pathways we often spot our garden-raiding woodchuck close to our home and use our .22 rimfire rifle to dispatch it. Ours is a bolt action that functions with a diversity of ammunition types. The most powerful are called “long rifle” shells. We avoid them because they are overly powerful and noisy.    Instead we use either “shorts” or, more frequently, “CB” shells. CB shells have only a small amount of powder and make little noise. They have plenty of power to dispatch a woodchuck hit in the head at 25 feet. Shorts have more power than CB’s but less than long rifles. They extend the effective range but are noisier.

AIRGUNS

Airguns, sometimes called BB guns, vary greatly in quality and power. Old fashioned BB guns fired a round piece of steel called a “BB”. Generally they lack both power and accuracy for serious pest control, but modern airguns are a different matter. Many are of .177 caliber but some are of .22 caliber, which fire a larger heavier pellet that is more lethal than the smaller one.  A common system of charging an airgun is to compress air by cocking the barrel. Some airguns will dispatch a pest as humanely as a firearm, but be careful.

Please note: There are pellet guns and there are pellet guns. Some are powerful  enough to humanely dispatch a woodchuck and other pests while others lack sufficient power.  Our Benjamin .22 titan shoots a 14.3 grain pellet at 750 feet per second, packing enough energy to kill a woodchuck at 25 yards if hit in a lethal area. Another of our pellet guns is much lower powered and  is used strictly for target practice.

CAUTION

Before using an airgun or rifle on your property:

  • Make sure it’s legal and safe.
  • Become familiar with the airgun or firearm. Read the owner’s manual.
  • Always practice safety and treat your airgun or .22 as if it’s loaded.
  • Develop skill. Never shoot at a pest until you have mastered accuracy and can kill it humanely. Practice often.
  • Store it safely. We keep ours in a large locked box, where it stays until used. Store ammunition away from the weapon. Always keep a weapon away from children.

FOR FUN

We enjoy target shooting and have made a simple range in our backyard.  Every once in a while we take the airgun out and enjoy punching holes in paper targets.

 FOR INFORMATION

For general information on shooting, safety and where to find a place to shoot go to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Solving Yard Problems Caused by Woodchucks, Rabbits and Chipmunks

Chipmunk

The charming but pesky chipmunk is an amazing forager and storer of food.

Wildlife sometime create yard mischief. Raccoons, possums, and skunks tip over trash cans in the middle of the night. Chipmunks tunnel under walls, moles heap mounds of dirt. And woodchucks and cottontails raid the garden.

To read this article, subscribe now!

Already a member? Log in.