September Bears

Some of the damage was already repaired when this picture was taken. (Credit: Charlotte Funke)

Our part of the world (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) has been home to black bears and grizzlies for about ten-thousand years. In recent days, they’ve mostly resided in the zoo and probably as household pets in a few basements – though I hope not. When bears wander into town from the Rocky Mountain foothills, they are quickly trapped and moved away. Rather than joining Timmy’s dog on a canine retirement farm in upstate New York, they tend to find themselves released somewhere along the eastern slopes.

People who live in our nearby foothills, or higher up along the slopes, are in bear country. Bears might wonder into a bee yard anytime from perhaps March to November, depending in the weather. One July, we had a grizzly dig under a fence at one of our higher-elevation yards, while another year, a gigantic early-August black bear was chased out of one of our locations by my brother, who yelled and chased the bear. My brother said that he made a big mistake. Don was armed with only a hivetool and ended up quite a distance from the truck when the bear stopped, turned towards him, and rose up on its back legs, over a head taller than my 6-foot-tall brother. As Don tells it, the bear looked at him from just a dozen metres away, then slowly dropped back onto all fours and ambled away – without eating my brother. Lucky Don.

I just received some notes and images from a beekeeper who lives half an hour west of Calgary. Charlotte Funke has a tidy bit of land with Bed and Breakfast lodgings in Bragg Creek, Alberta. She keeps several beehives near her house. All the pictures (and the video) on this web page are from her and her security cameras. One young black bear did all the damage you see here, all in one night. Although there is a well-constructed fence, she tells me that the gate to the fence was misaligned when it was latched this weekend. The hot line was grounded, and the bear entered the bee yard. You can see, in the next picture, that the fence, if properly-powered, should withstand most bear visits. (The arrow shows how the gate wasn’t hooked up correctly. It was accidentally hooked to the ground wire because the cotter pin on the last live wire had fallen off.)

It’s shocking how quickly a single bear can destroy an apiary. (A married couple is twice as bad.) I’ve seen big bears lift and carry away a hive, dropping it several metres away, probably thinking it had to take its food to the dining area. The bear featured on this page sat in place, eating. This awakened the human family whose approach scared the bear into a tree. It stayed there for an hour while they cleaned up the mess. You can see some of the damaged equipment. Bears eat wood, wax, and wires to get at the brood.

Finally, a video taken by security cameras. It was dark, the bear was at a distance, but you can see the bear, ‘hiding’ behind the tree before climbing up the first night, when the damage was done. The bear came back the following night, but by then the fence had been fixed and kept the bear out. A large, hungry bear might still bust through an electrified fence, anxious to fill its belly and add body fat, as bears must do in the autumn. Hopefully, this young one has had enough trouble and will look for easier pickings elsewhere.

Sound up. I was whispering in this voice-over . . .

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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7 Responses to September Bears

  1. Pingback: September Bears - One-Bee-Store

  2. Jerry Hayes says:

    Good morning Ron,

    This is a great article with great photos. Is this something we could re-print in Bee Culture?

    Jerry Hayes
    Bee Culture Magazine
    330-725-6677 Ext.3214
    623 W. Liberty St.
    Medina, OH. 44256

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sanebishop says:

    Ugh, sometimes in beekeeping you can’t win for losing. Makes me want to go dust off my voltage checker.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. valbjerke says:

    We’ve black bears by the dozen around here…tearing up gardens, garage doors open, sheds. Kitchen windows. Last week one simply opened a screen door and came on into a house with a startled owner running out the back door. They’re very bold. I’ve never quite figured why my hives have not been messed with. My bee yard is livestock fenced only, maybe my dogs? Knocking on wood here.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ron Miksha says:

      Loud, protective dogs will certainly keep most bears away, unless they know what beehives are. You are probably keeping your space around the hives free of burr comb and chunks of honey and brood. Some bears wander through an apiary without even realizing the boxes they are passing are full of food. But once they know, they are really hard to keep out.

      Liked by 3 people

      • valbjerke says:

        True. I’m always leery in the fall when I pull the honey. I keep a bear banger with me (and a rifle). Good point about keeping the yard clean – I worry about encouraging robbing if I get sloppy.

        Liked by 3 people

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