Not Just Weather Lore: Bears in the Backyards

November 19, 2018
Bears and Bird Seed

Mom! There’s a bear in the backyard! Californians are beginning to learn why their state flag has a bear on it.

If they had listened to Native American folklore, California residents would not be so surprised. Many Western tribes, including the Pueblo people who live near me, believed that the gods sent the bears as messengers. When the weather was bad, either due to drought or early frosts, the bears would come down from the mountains and warn the people that food would be hard to find. At the same time, according to the folklore, the gods were offering the people some bear meat to help tide them through the hard winter.


Bird seed! Yummy! Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The gift was appreciated by the people, if not the bears.

The reality is that when food is scarce, bears will leave their normal hunting grounds and look elsewhere.

California and the West have had a long-term drought, reducing the game available for bears.

That describes conditions in California and the West Coast this year. California had a dry spring that reduced the berries and nuts germinating. Even the areas that have had normal rainfall in summer have not recovered from drought. The bears have had to hunt elsewhere and Californian gardens, garbage and bird feeders are appreciated.

Unless residents want to see nature up close—real close—they are advised to hide their garbage and put bird feeders up high. Still, the bears are quite resourceful. During the early days of California, when drought had the streams so low that it was easy to find gold, miners also found bears raiding their camps. Now residents are making internet videos of bears in their swimming pools and strolling down the street.

To a bear, a yard full of fallen apples is just a fruity snack. Credit: National Park Service.

Until the drought is over, they will have to learn to bear it.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.