Rebuff Black Bears from Your Homestead

Learn the best methods to keep black bears off your property, and how to coexist with them if they end up wandering a little too close to your home.

| January/February 2020

Photo by Getty Images/VisualCommunications

When I saw our motion-sensing lights flip on outside one night, I wasn’t surprised. All manner of creatures tend to set them off, including bats, raccoons, skunks, and our own barn cats. But something that night made me roll out of my cozy bed and peer through the window. That something, it turned out, was a bear casually strolling down our driveway straight toward our orchard and hen house. Then and there, I knew I had to arm myself with information so I could properly protect our homestead. My research, which included information from some of North America’s preeminent experts on black bears, led to fascinating findings that have made me more comfortable living with bears near our home.

Photo by Getty Images/Ivan_Sabo

Black Bear Basics

Black bears (Ursus americanus) are the only bears the majority of people in the United States encounter. According to Dr. Stephen Herrero, who taught animal behavior and ecology at the University of Calgary, and who’s widely considered an authority on the topic, there are roughly 750,000 to 800,000 black bears in North America. This makes them the most common bear species on the continent.

Despite its name, a black bear can be brown, red-brown (a color officially called “cinnamon”), blond (which is actually off-white or very pale-yellow), or black. Brown U. americanus shouldn’t be confused with brown bears (also known as “grizzlies”), which have dished faces and hunched shoulders. Black bears’ faces are straight, and their shoulders sit lower. They’re omnivores, eating both plants and meat, but only about 5 percent of their diet consists of small animals, such as fish and opossum. About 15 percent of a black bear’s diet is made up of insects, including ants, bees, and termites, and the remaining 80 percent usually consists of wild greens, fruits, and nuts. Thankfully for small farmers and homesteaders, black bears don’t often show interest in making meals of pets or livestock.

Even so, “Farms and black bears don’t get along too well,” according to Dr. Lynn Rogers, who’s been the senior author on more peer-reviewed scientific articles on black bears than anyone else, and whose research has been compared to Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees.

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