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NH expects bears to emerge from dens earlier this spring

From New Hampshire Fish and Game Department

-- What a winter it hasn’t been, and Mother Nature hasn’t fooled bears either. They’re ready to emerge from dens in search of spring foods.

“We use April 1 as the recommended time for homeowners to remove bird feeders,” says Andrew Timmins, Fish and Game Bear Project Leader.  “However, this year we’re suggesting feeders be pulled by March 15. “

Bears den to avoid being active when food is limited. Weather conditions play a role in but the influence of weather on denning behavior is less significant than food availability. The New Hampshire black bear population remains stable, with a statewide population of approximately 5,000 bears.

“It’s been an odd year for bears," Timmins explained. "Bears remained very active during December and early January. In late January, multiple calls came in reporting bears wandering around homes feeding on dropped wild apples and birdseed. Also, we experienced a phenomenal beechnut crop last fall. Bears fed heavily in beech groves into December and likely will again this spring. These nuts will provide bears an important food source in spring for a month or two.”

Select favored bear foods abundant last fall continue to be available to bears for a limited time this spring. With limited snowpack around the state, bears can easily leftover fall mast. The bottom line—bears will emerge from dens this year before the end of winter.

Even if there are leftover nuts in the woods, bears will take advantage of birdseed and other attractants found around homes. Black oil sunflower seeds are simply too high a quality of food (high in fat and protein) for bears to ignore. Furthermore, if bears have previously found sunflower seeds at your home, they will be back looking for more. The best way to prevent attracting bears is to remove birdfeeders and keep them down until December 1.  

Securing garbage is just as important as removing birdfeeders.

Homeowners who secure garbage and remove birdfeeders have addressed the two temptations that cause the vast majority of bear/human conflicts in New Hampshire. Removing the two common attractants goes a long way toward reducing the number of annual bear complaints.

Spring is a critical time for bears. The greatest nutritional stress on a bear occurs during the first two months after they emerge from dens. During the denning period, bears typically lose 24 percent of their body weight, and a lactating female with newborn cubs may lose as much as 40 percent.

“The surest way to prevent bear/human conflicts is to keep property free of attractants, but you may need to take additional steps to protect items that can’t be removed. For example, dumpsters should have a locking metal top that prevents access by bears, and beehives and livestock should be protected with an electric fence. To avoid bear-related conflicts, prevent bears from visiting and, most of all, from getting in the habit of finding food on your property,” said Timmins.  

For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, visit 

New Hampshire residents with questions about bear-related problems can get advice by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (888)749-2327.

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