Canaan, N.Y. — Feeding orioles during a pandemic can be problematic because the fresh oranges customarily offered to the brightly colored birds can be hard to come by for people under lockdown. Grape jelly is the perfect alternative to oranges and, for the purpose of attracting orioles, many backyard bird enthusiasts offer it exclusively. But bears, too, enjoy grape jelly, and if they happen to discover it in your oriole feeder, it will be the cause of great joy.
A grizzly bear is more frightening than a bad pun. But a bad pun is more frightening than a black bear, because Ursus americanus is a timid animal that, during the Pleistocene epoch, developed characteristics — especially the ability to climb trees — that helped it escape from the ginormous short-faced bear, a 1-ton-plus brute that loved black bears as a food source. (You can think of the short-faced bear as the Tyrannosaur of the Ursidae family: Unlike the black bear, the short-faced bear ate nothing but meat.) About 10,000 years after the short-faced bear went extinct, black bears are still terrified of them. That’s why it’s so easy for almost anyone to chase away a black bear.
There are no puns on the word “bear” anywhere in this article.
On July 9, the Albany Times Union reported an uptick in the usual number of reported bear sightings in upstate New York. Some have suggested that city people stuck in their rural homes have contributed to the increase. Others attribute it to 2019’s bumper crop of wild fruits, nuts, berries and other mast. (Chipmunk numbers seem to have exploded this year, just as one would expect following a mast year.) In any case, when uneaten acorns and other mast remain on the ground after the snow has melted in spring, animals that depend on these food sources tend to really flourish for a season — and that definitely includes bears. So there may actually be more bears in the woods this year than usual, and if so, it’s probably because every bear in the Northeast went into hibernation last winter with a full belly and wearing a thick blanket of fat. It seems likely that most of them (including cubs) survived the winter. And so, on very special summer occasions, they become our honored guests.