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Black Bears Emerging from Winter Dens, Looking for Food

Marylanders Urged to Keep Bears Wild

Photo of black bear in a wooded area at night

Photo by Nathaniel Peck submitted to the 2023 Maryland DNR Photo Contest.

As spring gets underway in western and central Maryland, black bears have already vacated their dens and started exploring the areas around them. After months of not eating or drinking, bears are hungry and in search of easy food. Black bears rely on their powerful sense of smell to locate food and are attracted to anything that resembles the scent of food, like birdseed, chicken feed, dog food and even trash.  

Homeowners who leave human-generated food sources out in the open may unintentionally draw bears to residential areas. Once a black bear finds an easy meal, they are likely to be repeat visitors. When young bears are exposed to easy human-generated food sources, it teaches them that the tastiest food comes from people. Exposure to these easy food sources can, and does, lead to a lifelong change in behavior that puts bears at risk due to the close proximity to humans. Residents, and visitors, of Maryland’s bear country are encouraged to exercise good judgment to avoid creating man-made bear attractions. 

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources advises: 

  • Removing backyard bird feeders from April through November (birds have plenty of wild food sources during this time);
  • Locking garbage in a bear-proof trash bin or storing trash containers in a locked garage or shed until the morning of trash pickup and rinsing out trash containers with ammonia to eliminate odors;
  • Store pet food inside and do not leave food bowls unattended; and
  • Storing cooking grills inside and keeping them clean of food residue.

“Bears are wild creatures that do not rely on humans for survival, and we want to keep them that way,” said Wildlife and Heritage Director Karina Stonesifer. “Just a few simple actions taken by our residents now, like removing food sources and other attractants, can reduce the chances of attracting bears and ensure the bears stay in their more natural habitat throughout the year.” 

Bears are most common in Maryland’s four westernmost counties – Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington. However, they can also be found anywhere in central and southern Maryland, particularly during spring when young male bears tend to wander into new areas looking for a chance to establish their own territory.

For more information on living with black bears and bear behavior, please visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources black bear page or BearWise.