DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
A nature lover with particular avian interests says it’s possible to feed resident and transient birds in bear country without attracting ursines.
The approach, said Kristi Streiffert, owner of Durango-based For the Birds, is to make sure seeds, suet or sweetened water aren’t within reach of bears.
Streiffert has erected a 13-foot steel pole topped with a bird feeder outside her shop to demonstrate.
Four feeders – one designed for finches, one for woodpeckers, one for everybody and one surrounded by a mesh that allows only small birds to enter – hang above clear plastic panels that catch falling seeds.
Birdseed, with about 1,750 calories per pound, is probably a bear’s second favorite food source after garbage cans.
Bears that scavenge in urban areas have become a nuisance – or worse – in La Plata County. Once they have a source of human food they return like clockwork.
“I came up with the idea of ‘clean’ bird feeding,” Streiffert said. “I ran it by the Parks and Wildlife people and they’re open to it.”
Yes and no, said Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango.
“We want to work with people who are passionate about birds,” Dorsey said. “But feeding birds has to be done responsibly, and many of us aren’t responsible.”
Dorsey suggested that bird lovers might get as much a kick out of a birdhouse or birdbath as a bird feeder.
Feeding birds is fine, but if there’s a conflict with bears, the bird feeder has to go, Dorsey said.
Bryan Peterson, who in 2003 founded Bear Smart Durango to educate residents about living around bears, said the best practice is to take feeders down from March through November when bears are around.
“Not to be the killjoy here, but birds have a lot of natural food in these months,” Peterson said. “The next best thing is to take feeders in at night. But it’s hard to do without spilling seeds.”
Persisting in feeding birds when it’s to the detriment of wildlife can result in a citation, Dorsey said. It’s illegal to attract wildlife, she said.
Streiffert said everyone has to agree that it’s OK to have a bird feeder unless it attracts bears. If the feeder is a problem, it comes down – period.
“We can’t underestimate a bear’s ability to find food,” she said. “But neither can we underestimate the pleasure and rewards of attracting birds to our yards.”
It’s too much to ask people not to feed birds, Streiffert said.
“It’s a meaningful experience that connects people to nature,” Streiffert said. “There’s a joy in witnessing chickadees bringing their offspring to the feeder or watching a nuthatch snatch cracked corn off a window feeder.”
Streiffert has a degree in chemistry from the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs, became a certified naturalist through courses at Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Minnesota and earned an MBA at the University of Cyprus.
She bought For the Birds, which sells seed, bird feeders and other paraphernalia, in October.
Bird feeders should be installed out of reach of bears, from the ground or from a branch or house railing, Streiffert said. A seed catcher beneath a feeder is a must, she said. Flocks of evening grosbeaks migrating through will hang out in neighborhoods, she said.
We can still enjoy our yards, and connecting with birds increases our awareness and responsibility to all of nature, including bears, Streiffert said.