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As spring arrives, bears will begin emerging from hibernation, on the hunt for food. There have already been reports of bear activity in 14 Colorado counties this year, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials are urging residents to secure or remove any and all attractants. Trash receptacles, bird feeders, and other human-provided food sources should be secured or removed from homes and businesses. 

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, or trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” said Mark Lamb, CPW’s Area Wildlife Manager for Area 1, covering Park, Gilpin, and Clear Creek counties along with the western half of Jefferson County. “People who think that it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one timers’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

Males (boars) typically emerge from their winter dens first, followed by females (sows) that did not give birth to cubs over the winter. Females who gave birth to this year’s cubs usually emerge last, towards the end of April. 

Bears’ natural food sources in the early season include grasses, aspen buds, and other early sprouting vegetation. These gentle, early crops help ease bears’ digestive systems and metabolism back into normal patterns after months without eating. 

“Their bodies are needing to adjust to the fact that they haven’t consumed anything for sometimes six months,” said Mark Vieira, Carnivore and Furbearer Program Manager for CPW. “So there is this phase that is referred to sometimes as walking hibernation, where they are out on the landscape moving slowly and eating what tends to be more vegetative material that starts to pass through their system to get their bodies ready for early summer food sources. That is when they will move back into the typical omnivore diet that we see bears eating the rest of the year.”

More than 90 percent of a bear’s natural diet is made up of grasses, berries, fruits, nuts, and plants; crops all dependent on moisture levels. Wildlife officials monitor spring and summer weather to determine what natural forage will be available in the summer and fall. Years with good moisture and abundant natural food sources see fewer bear interactions and conflicts. 

While most bear-human interactions happen in the late summer and fall months, late frosts or prolonged dry weather can lead to localized natural food shortages and an increase in conflicts. Black bears become more persistent in their search for human food sources by a failure in natural food availability.

Bear spray, air horns, and bear canisters can all help with bear safety in the outdoors. Courtesy of CPW.

Being bear aware protects homes and property, but can also save bears’ lives. Proper practices can help prevent bears from discovering your home or neighborhood as a food source to return to throughout the year. Prevention tips include:

  • Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure.
  • Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup; bring empty cans back inside before dark.
  • Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These are available online or from your trash hauler.
  • Clean all garbage cans regularly to keep them odor-free. The scent of ammonia can deter bears.
  • Take down all bird feeders. Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts – 1,073 conflicts between 2019 and 2021 were due to bird feeders. Birds have naturally available food sources during the spring, summer, and fall. Don’t let your bird feeder become a bear feeder.
  • Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside – never provide food sources for any wildlife.
  • Install and test your electric fencing to protect your chicken coops, beehives, or even livestock enclosures.
  • Clean all BBQ grills.
  • Keep garage doors and windows closed and locked, especially between dusk and dawn.
  • Don’t leave attractants such as snacks, food wrappers, gum, or even scented hand lotions in your car. Always lock vehicle doors.
  • Use bear boxes or bear-proof containers for food and scented items when camping.
  • Don’t leave food outside while camping. If bear boxes aren’t available, buy your own bear canister or leave all food in the trunk of a locked vehicle as your last resort.
  • Buy an air horn or bear spray. These tools are good to have whether for your home or if you go hiking and camping. They can help haze bears away.
  • Review CPW’s Bearproofing Your Home Fact Sheet and conduct a home audit to be sure you are not attracting bears to your property.

For more information about Living with Bears in Colorado, visit

Featured image: A bear peeks out of a trash can in Colorado. Photo by DJ Hannigan, courtesy of CPW.