Wide-awake brown bear raids bird feeders at Hillside home

Late hibernation not unusual

Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 29, 2011 

Charles and Dolores Weiler had settled in for a winter's nap when -- like Goldilocks -- a bear woke them up.

The Weilers live on Stroganof Drive near the top of the residential part of Anchorage's Hillside, across the street from the Powerline Trail in Chugach State Park and a few hundred feet from the Upper O'Malley Trailhead.

They're not novices when it comes to bear invasions. Ten years ago, a black bear knocked down their bird feeders. That was in the summer.

Nowadays they don't put the feeders out until winter has set in -- two of them on a stout 6-by-6 inch pole attached to the deck. With temperatures hitting single digits and colder recently and near-record snowfall blanketing the city, they figured the bears must be asleep.

Not all of them.

"About 12:30 last night we heard some terrible banging and rubbing," said Charles on Tuesday.

They turned on the outdoor lights and Dolores saw the brown bear.

"It came through the wooden fence that surrounds our yard and knocked down about three feet of it," said Charles. "It came through and headed toward our dog pen."

He described the pen, which they don't use anymore, as a 6-foot chain link fence. The bear mashed it down. Then it headed for the bird feeders.

"He pulled the whole post away from the railing," said Dolores.

Then the bear strolled back out the driveway and into the park. Dolores called a neighbor who has a dog to make sure the pet was inside.

Charles removed both bird feeders and got a look at the tracks. "I measured them. They're exactly 12 inches long and six inches wide, so it's no little baby bear," he said.

The Weilers have a bearproof garbage container but told Fish and Game that the bear may have been trying to get into it.

Alaska Department Fish and Game biologist Sean Farley agreed. "It's not a 'cub of the year,' " he said.

There have been continued sightings, Farley said, including regular tracks on the Hillside cross-country ski trails recently. But he stressed the same information that department biologists have previously relayed: "It's causing quite a stir because we can see it here. If you were living in a more remote location and saw a brown bear walk across the hill, you might go, 'Hmm. Kinda late. Not that big a deal.' The fact is that brown bears don't go into the den at the same time."

Farley's job has included tracking bears with radio collars. Some remain out until Christmas or later, he said. Shorter days and colder temperatures may incline them toward bedding down, but unless they're going to give birth, there's no absolute reason why they must.

"If a bear is large enough and has put on good reserves and the weather isn't bad, it may stay out of the den," he said. "Then there'll be the odd scatterings of a young bear that has lost its mom or a 'teenage' bear. If they're getting access to food, they won't necessarily go in."

Farley noted that black bears in the southern United States don't bed down unless they're going to have cubs. Nor do polar bears, though they may hole up when a storm comes through. But since cubs are born about as helpless as any big-mammal infant can be, the mothers need to find a place that's safe for the first several months of their babies' lives.

Though the Weilers' bear apparently targeted bird food, Farley thought it would be "premature" to tell people to take down their bird feeders. Despite the number of calls received by Fish and Game, Farley is of the opinion that the numbers of still-prowling bruins in the Anchorage area are very small. In the case of the Hillside reports, it's most likely a solo stroller.

Just one?

"My guess would be yes," he said.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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