Wildlife Watch: Don’t Be Surprised When Mr. Bear Shows Up in Your Backyard

When the suspect was caught red-handed raiding bird feeders near Purcellville last week, he seemed unfazed at being the subject of the social media spotlight (and just a few Goldilocks references). Late fall in Loudoun’s west can mean hungry black bears in residential areas. And while experts say the bears would rather be eating acorns, they’re not above the occasional dumpster dive.

Last week, a bear who’s been making the rounds on country roads in southwest Loudoun was caught on camera. Local real estate agent and longtime Philomont resident Leslie Woods-Hulse shared a shot of a bear in a neighbor’s backyard near Greggsville Road to a local community page, reminding newer residents that black bears are usually harmless and mostly vegetarians.

“Just leave them alone and they will move on to find the perfect den,” Woods-Hulse advised neighbors.

Woods-Hulse, who’s been in Philomont for 27 years, says that after going for more than 20 years without a bear sighting, she’s spotted three in the past five years.

“They’ve been around us for a long time. They’re being booted out by development and having to find new areas,” she said.

Virginia’s bear experts are advocates for coexistence. The state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries,which oversees wildlife, inland fisheries, and recreational boating,handles bear calls in Loudoun, and department biologist Jordan Green is part of the region’s bear patrol.Green, a native of southwest Virginia and a Virginia Tech grad, is based in Fredericksburg and works for the regional office that covers Loudoun.

Green says there’s nothing to indicate increased activity in Loudoun this fall compared with previous years, but reports do tend to go up as natural food sources get harder to find. In the fall of 2018, an acorn shortage made headlines as it drove bears into the suburbs around the state, including a sighting in Ashburn.

A black bear was spotted raiding bird feeders in Philomont last week. [M. Gurdak]

“We’ve had several persistent bear sightings and trash-related issues in Loudoun this year. However, nothing indicates a significant increase in calls or bear numbers,” Green said in an email toLoudoun Now.

According to the department, most bear sightings in the commonwealth happen in the Blue Ridge mountains to Loudoun’s west, the Allegheny Mountains in southwestern Virginia and around the Great Dismal Swamp at the North Carolina border, but bears have been spotted in at least 92 of Virginia’s 98 counties and cities.

Green says bears are heavily motivated by their bellies, and while they’d rather be eating acorns and other natural foods, seasonal changes in food availability can affect where they spend their time.

“Bears are motivated to follow their nose to any potential food sources,” Green said. “This affinity for food can lead them into different areas and sometimes get them in trouble as humans often unknowingly leave food items out that bears will find such as unsecured garbage, pet food, bird seed, fallen or hanging fruit from fruit trees and [unwashed] grills. … Bears typically find natural foods more attractive than unsecured garbage. However, the potential reward of a high calorie meal sometimes found in odd, strange containers we humans call garbage cans can be too tempting to pass up.”

Local wildlife photographer and guide Brian Balik, owner of Balik Outdoors and a longtime bear observer, says Loudoun-specific numbers are hard to track because the highest concentrations of black bear sightings are on the county’s western edge at its shared border with Clarke County.

Balik also says because of Loudoun’s relatively warm temperatures, bears in this area often don’t go into a full hibernation. Instead, they go into a kind of false hibernation called torpor where they may sleep for a few days and then spend a few days awake in cycles.

“They can hibernate, but most of them don’t,” Balik said.

One thought on “Wildlife Watch: Don’t Be Surprised When Mr. Bear Shows Up in Your Backyard

  • 2019-12-03 at 8:20 am

    I ran into a bear a few weeks ago at Franklin Park in Purcelville. I was on the perimeter trail and cut through the woods to take a shortcut back to my car. Luckily, the bear just moved on his way.

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