Bear killed in Aspen was found with a belly full of birdseed
The killing of a bear that attacked a hiker in Aspen is leading state wildlife officials to remind residents in the High Country that bird feeders and other food attractants near homes do more harm than good for wildlife.
Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife tracked and killed a black bear in Aspen on Friday, May 31, after it was suspected of biting a hiker there on Memorial Day. DNA tests confirmed the bear was the same one that bit the hiker. A necropsy on the bear, a 3- to 4-year-old male black bear weighing 224 pounds, revealed the bear’s stomach contents as mostly birdseed.
The bear had likely been going through Aspen’s neighborhoods and backyards for weeks, gorging on easy-to-reach bird feeders since waking up from hibernation, and over time lost any fear of humans and their neighborhoods. The Memorial Day biting incident was likely the natural result of the bear’s acclimation.
Now, Parks and Wildlife officials continue to urge residents of Summit County and other parts of bear country to stop putting out bird feeders, trash and any other potential attractants near their homes or publicly accessible areas as they are a serious danger to humans and wildlife.
Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Mike Porras said Wednesday that his agency has been warning people in bear country for many years about the danger bird feeders pose. When dangled at eye level or otherwise accessible from the ground, bird feeders — both with seed and sugary liquid meant for hummingbirds — are like lunch bags or juice boxes for hungry bears after hibernation.
“Anything that has calorie potential, any food source that has a scent, it is an attractant,” Porras said. “Whether it’s birdseed, trash, pet food, dirty grills — they can all be seen as attractants, especially during times of high bear activity.”
As bears roam around residential neighborhoods, they start looking out for bird feeders and come to see them as a reliable food source. Over time, the regular meal overrides any fear of humans, and that is when the bear’s life is put in jeopardy.
As a matter of policy, Parks and Wildlife euthanizes any bear that acts aggressively toward humans to protect the public now and in the future, as those aggressive traits are taken out of the gene pool. In 2018, 116 bears were euthanized by the state.
“CPW is occasionally required to put down a bear that attacked a person, and that’s not going to change. Our primary duty is to the public,” Porras said. “But what can change is that people take this seriously, do the right things and stop attracting bears. If that happens, we can cut down on the numbers killed.”
Porras said he understands locals who put out bird feeders want to help birds after migrations and encourage birds to nest near their homes for comfortable birdwatching. However, he said bird feeders are not only potentially dangerous to humans and bears, but they’re also unnecessary for birds in the spring.
“It sounds extreme, but we do not recommend bird feeders this time of year,” Porras said. “They can be used in wintertime, when there’s nothing to eat and birds need more seed. But there’s no need to have them out after that, and they become an attractant for bears.”
Porras encouraged the public to visit CPW.State.co.us and review the agency’s tips and recommendations for bear-proofing their lives as well as to find other information about how to properly experience and enjoy the state’s wildlife.
For now, the most direct way residents can help is to be responsible about safely securing and disposing of food attractants. That should go along with getting generally wise on the rules of dealing with wildlife.
“There are a lot of people moving here who don’t know how to interact with wildlife. But if you live in Colorado, you need to get educated on living with wildlife,” Porras said. “If you are providing food to a bear, you have created a dangerous situation for yourself and your neighbors, and it can lead to the demise of the bear.”