Birdfeeder vs. Bears: Round Three

A guest blog by Lenny, Danny’s Husband

About five years ago we decided to put up a bird feeder. We bought a nice pole-mounted one which we planted on our side lawn.

Three weeks later, we found it lying on the ground, empty. It had rained the night before and the ground was soft. I thought it had fallen over because the spikes that were supposed to hold it upright weren’t deep enough.

“Can you get some cement and give the birdfeeder a good support?” I asked Jim, our gardener.

He did, but two weeks later we again found the bird feeder on the ground, empty. The only thing different was that there was now a large mass of hardened cement around the end of the birdfeeder pole.

Jim doesn’t give up lightly. “What if I get some rebar and reinforce this?” he asked. “Worth a try,” we replied.

Three weeks later the birdfeeder was again on the ground, empty. Jim’s rebar and cement had held, but the birdfeeder pole was bent at ninety degrees. It finally dawned on us that we were dealing with  bears in the middle of the city. This approach wasn’t going to work.
Round one to the bears.

Our next approach was to buy a birdfeeder that could be mounted off the railing on our deck. Following the general advice, we took the birdfeeder in each night and set it back out in the morning.

This worked for almost four years, but three months ago, we found the birdfeeder and the mount lying on deck. The feeder had been smashed. Whatever had knocked our feeder down had done it in broad daylight. Being stubborn types we got a new feeder and mounted it again. A week later the feeder was down, again in broad daylight. This time the bear had carried it into the bushes and I had to search to find it. Replacing the feeders was getting expensive.
Round two to the bears.

“What we need is a bear cable, like they use at campsites in the Smokies,” Danny said, in what she thought was a joke.

“That’s a great idea,” I replied. Bear cables are used at shelters in the Smokies and along the Appalachian Trail to allow backpackers to hoist their food out of the reach of bears.

Did you ever see pictures of the laundry lines strung from apartment house to apartment house in big cities? Bear cables are similar except they are vertical and made of steel cable rather than rope. Instead of clothes pins to hold laundry in place, the cables have hooks mounted on them from which backpacker hang their packs or food bags. They work very well.

We’d have to modify the design used at backcountry campsites. We didn’t have the room to stretch the cable between two trees.

But Howard McDonald, who designed the cable systems used at the shelters Carolina Mountain Club maintains, is a good friend. He came up with a pulley design that could be mounted off a bracket attached to our house.

Jeff Paeplow, a carpenter who’s done a great deal of work at our house had never seen anything like what Howard designed, but was more than happy to try to install it. The two of them, and Jeff’s son and helper, Kyle, installed the system. We now can pull our bird feeder about fifteen feet off the ground, which should be out of the reach of our local bears, and lower it whenever we need to refill it.
Round three has just started, but we are confident that we will defeat the bears this time.

From Danny – The birdfeeder was installed while I was out leading a hike for Friends of the Smokies. Thank you, guys, for a great system. We’ve already had our first cardinals and chickadees.

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