Natural Observations–Bears on the porch

In this week’s Earth and Beyond program, Natural Observations host and producer Robin Song tells about the recent visit of a black bear family during the night. Audio is 5 minutes. Text follows audio.


A noise awoke me a little past one a.m., the morning of July 7th.  Lyra, lying next to me, looked at me with wide eyes. The squirrels tend to get extra-active at night, sometimes chasing each other across the porch beams and making enough noise to wake a sound sleeper. A louder noise sent me out of bed and across the cabin to peer out the little kitchen window. As I stood on tiptoe to get a good look, the head of a black bear rose up in front of me. The bear was on the far side of a small round table in the middle of the west side of the porch. I moved to the cabin door and got the camera, which hangs on a peg beside it. I heard a crash on the porch and opened the door carefully. A cub and I startled each other and the yearling shinnied up the porch post until it reached the topmost beam. There it sat down on the beam, its front paws wrapped around the post.


The sow, meanwhile, had grabbed the two empty tubs stacked on top of each other against the northwest side of the porch. I store my garbage in the top one during winter, but I stop putting garbage bags in there when the bears come out of their dens in the spring. There must have been a faint lingering odor, however, which mom wanted to investigate. She sent the tubs tumbling and the pots of flowers and lettuce on top of them as well.


When I opened the cabin door and sent the cub climbing up the post, mama bear lunged and darted across the porch just a few feet in front of me, somehow squeezing her bulk between the porch railings. She launched into space and hit the ground running, dashing off into the nearby forest. She left her cub behind, which surprised me. Lyra was behind me, standing in the middle of the cabin and barking. She was not willing to go out onto the porch at all, and I did not blame her. The cub was squalling, obviously unhappy that mom had left it behind. It’s calls sounded very much like it was crying out; “Mom! Maaum!!”


My big Sony camera was not focusing in the low light, so I switched to the little Olympus. After a short while the cub gathered its courage and backed down the post, calling as it went. I switched on the porch light to make a video of the cub, and when its hind feet touched the porch floor, it swung its slender body to the edge of the landing and jumped. The cub landed squarely in my potato patch and ran as fast as its legs could take it in the direction its mama had gone into the forest and where she was no doubt waiting for it.

The whole episode had lasted less than ten minutes. As I righted the tubs and replaced the pots of plants on top, I marveled at how such a large animal could maneuver on a porch full of pots and planters, hanging baskets and tables without causing far more damage than she had. The cub had flattened the little fence around the potatoes, but the resilient plants had come through the assault unscathed. Everything I’d heard and read about sows with cubs said that they are very protective of their cubs. I was quite surprised that this sow had run off and left her cub sitting up there on the porch beam, calling for her. Maybe her offspring had done something to tick her off and this was payback. (Ya never know.) It sure seemed unusual that she wouldn’t have stayed by the porch until the cub was down the post and had run to her. I didn’t venture out onto the porch until I was sure both bears were heading well into the forest. Lyra came out with me and I watched her as she sniffed the air. Since she is nervous about bears, I knew she would warn me if the bears were returning. She didn’t bark or growl, so I knew we had probably seen the last of the bears- for that night, anyway. There was nothing to attract them, so they had no reason to make another visit to the cabin. They had been curious, but investigating the tubs had not rewarded them with anything edible. In bear country, that is the most important thing: don’t give a bear a reason to come back.


Lyra and I returned to bed, but we stayed awake for awhile, listening to the summer night. Her head would snap up at every little sound- real or imagined. A few birds sang- a robin, a Swainson’s Thrush. A snipe winnowed overhead. Three mosquitoes hummed outside the net surrounding my bed, seeking entrance. Eventually Lyra settled down and stretched out on her side. She sighed and drifted off to sleep. I wondered if bears would visit her in her dreams. I smiled as I recalled the details of the bear encounter, then joined Lyra in dreamland.


By Robin Song




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