rub-a-dub-dub: bear in the frogpond

bear in water gardenWATER-GARDEN EXPERTS recommend adding plants, fish, and perhaps tadpoles, to an aquatic backyard habitat, but here’s a bolder idea: Add a black bear. That’s the little duckweed-covered frogpond (and sedum in the foreground, covering most of the stones) situated barely 15 feet from my door, with its latest part-time resident. No kidding. Rub-a-dub-dub, Ursus americanus. Be sure to wash behind your ears.

bear closeup in poolWhen I voiced my objection loudly, the bear simply scrambled up the hill, ripped some twigs off a crabapple for a snack (below), then lumbered across the yard to one of my century-old apples. (By the way: The pool without the bear in it, an older photo, is at the bottom of the page for perspective.)

bear eating crabappleIn about 4 seconds it had climbed 25 feet high into the uppermost crown of the tallest tree. (That’s it on the way back down, below, from a distance–I had gone back inside after the first verbal scolding.)

Next was an attempted nap on the grass, in the tree’s shade—but I interrupted that plan with more negative verbal feedback, and it ambled off, presumably to climb a tree trunk beside my 8-foot fence and drop down to the other side, away from the aggravation of my voice for the moment.

bear halfway down apple treeI don’t mean to be flip about living in bear country, which requires vigilant attention and respect for these animals as for all wildlife. In a typical year, bears visit here at night a couple or few times a season, knocking down a piece of fence on the way in and tossing things about in search of food, leaving big pawprints in the garden (and sometimes on the porch, too, if the ground was wet with rain or dew).

This year, bolder encounters by a number of different individuals have been happening locally by day along our road, meaning these bears have grown habituated to us humans and our home environments–not ideal. I’d prefer they go back on the night shift, but I’m not sure I’m the boss.


  1. Carol J says:

    I live in Virginia Beach, VA. We are 30 miles from the Great Dismal Swamp. For some reason the bears have left the swamp and are coming into town. Officials are urging residents of the surrounding towns to keep food scraps in the freezer until trash day, keep pets inside during the night. Several times the young bears get stranded and go up a tree. The local mattress store donates a mattress. The police shoot a tranquilizer into the bear, bear falls from the tree and lands on the mattress. Great excitement. They tag the bear and take him back to the swamp. One made it all the way to the oceanfront.

    1. margaret says:

      Sounds like they’d be happier back at the swamp than in town (except for all the tempting food smells, I guess). Thanks for saying hello, Carol J.

  2. Marilyn Wilkie says:

    Bears are appearing in our vicinity more often as well. We are in upper Michigan between Cadillac and Manistee. Perfect bear country. This big boy was about a mile from us. He must be the King of bears around here.

  3. Maria Retartha says:

    Hi Margaret – I went to school with you and Marion in Douglaston/Little Neck (I was Maria Buck then) and found your website after reading your book. Anyway, I had a similar close encounter with a huge bear last summer while weeding my garden here in Avon CT. I was crouched down weeding and happened to look to my left side and a car’s length away from me was a bear just like yours [parallel to me lumbering thru the grass to the street. I thought I’d die. I froze and then backed away into the house. The CT DEP said I should get a whistle and wear it while outdoors and blow it making a lot of noise. So, now I don’t go outside without it!

    1. margaret says:

      Nice to hear from you after all these years away from our “roots” in Queens, Maria. Yes, I have an air horn and whistle on order, good idea. I can’t see from one garden area to another here because of the big shrubberies and sloping land, so I was startled when he/she and I found each other Saturday. Oops.

  4. Rosemary Race says:


    Gosh, we have eight foot fences to keep the kangaroos out, even on the Mornington Peninsula… but a bear in your garden able to climb your fence, I wouldn’t be too happy about that.

    Maybe you need to be a bit louder and use a large bell to scare them away or during the day place ringing bells in your trees so that if they climb them they wont like the noise!

    The other thing is, if there is one bear around where is the ‘mother’ and ‘daddy’ bears I thought bears roam around in groups….

    Good luck Margaret you know better than me how to handle them STILL it made me laugh this morning to read your email..good sense of humour you have

  5. Carolyn says:

    Leave it to you to have this experience! I’m sure you will be able to work it into a great life lesson for us.
    Blessings, carolyn

  6. Annie says:

    Have you considered installing an electric fence? We have bears that eat our food and were wondering if electric fences would really keep the bears away.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Annie. Yes, I have an 8-foot metal (wire) fence, but this guy (or girl) is into climbing. Thinking I will need to add some strands of electric on the exterior; am researching, and have a call in to the state DEC for plan recommendations.

  7. patsquared2 says:

    Be careful! People grow accustomed to bears, too. The woman in Orlando, Florida who got dragged out of her garage by bears would say the same. She lived to tell about it. Just call Fish & Wildlife it you need a hand – please don’t get over confident or you could get hurt.

  8. Dahlink says:

    We learned new respect for the power of bears when we spent some time with a cousin in her cabin in northern Minnesota. The bird feeder, which was mounted on a very sturdy support, was snapped off like a toothpick. It made scampering to the outhouse at night a big adventure.

  9. Judy Glasel says:

    I recently had a bear visitation at night—–much too close for comfort, and he would not be discouraged by my loud banging on a large wastebasket. The local police shooed him off with a few short blasts from an air horn. The next day I bought a small air horn, just in case I might need it in future. I have not used it, but feel secure in having it here. May I suggest having one handy in case of need. They are available at sport stores and marine stores—–about $15.00.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Judy. I just ordered an air horn, too! The DEC recommends that as a good tool you can keep with you outside (they’re now so compact). Thanks for mentioning it.

  10. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I always did admire the bold accents in the garden. My! I think I would be gardening looking over my shoulder every two seconds. Do you carry around some sort of bear spray? I know you would say, safety first.

  11. Amanda says:

    I love the bear! We don’t get to see them in SW OK. We live rurally and I get coyotes most nights. The bear is much cuter! :)

    1. margaret says:

      I agree, Amanda. Not a giant coyote fan, though I do enjoy their singing (as long as it is from the field across the yard and not literally here. : )

  12. Susan says:

    One of my dad’s disappointments in life was sleeping through the night a black bear ambled down Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, not far from my parents’ apartment. (This happened several years ago.)

  13. joan packer says:

    Margaret, you are funny about the bathing bear! One spent the night on my front porch recently. But how about the bunnies? I have more this year than I ever had. I found a nest of about 8 babies in my fenced in vegetable garden in early June and it has been downhill since then. They are eating flowers, eggplant plants, lettuces in a pot, other odds and ends. I had a nice bed of astrantia; they chewed it down to the ground. However they are eclectic and unpredictable. One year I had way too many squirrels and they ate all my fruit; I guess these things go in cycles.

  14. Kathleen says:

    The DER issued a bear alert to summer park visitors. Three types of bear one encounters include the American Black bear the brown bear and the Grizzly bear. It is advised when hiking thru the woods to carry pepper spray, bells and a whistle. Periodically, announcing your presence with the jingle bells or whistle. It is also imperative one be able to recognize bear scat, as it will allow you to be wary of bears in the area. Now, the American Black bear and brown bear scat resembles that of a large dog. Grizzly bear scat smells like pepper and it is shiny, because it has bells and whistles in it.

  15. shira says:

    We’ve had 3 bear alerts here in semi-rural CT in the last week! Not sure what is going on this year, but this is certainly unusual. We’ve already got our fill of bobcats and coyotes, not sure I need another visitor!

  16. Elle says:

    It would take a few years to kick in but I would definitely plant a few apple trees out in the woods it came from – wildlife habitat is so severely encroached upon that the poor things have no choice but to confront humanity in order to feed themselves. The expense of a few fruit-bearing ( ha ) plants is likely just as well-spent as a Sierra club donation. Trading off a tax deduction for peace of mind on the homefront is worth considering.

  17. tunie says:

    Not that there’s necessarily anything to be afraid about, but this is making me feel like a rewatch of the wildly out there documentary, Grizzly Man.

  18. Katie Spring says:

    Even though I grew up in Vermont and lived in the Adirondacks during college, the first time I saw a black bear was in New Jersey at the Delaware Water Gap while visiting my in-laws. How ironic to see three bears ambling down a hillside with a busy highway below them (we were higher than the bears, looking down on them). I think they see more bears in New Jersey than we do here in VT. I’m happy to have them out in the woods rather than my yard, though! Hope this one doesn’t cause too much trouble!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Katie. So glad we discovered each other. My new friend was apparently displeased at my unwelcoming tone of voice the other day, and after two visits has decided not to take a swim again out back so far in the last five days. We shall see. As for the Adirondacks…I think you went to the same school where my sister is a trustee! Small world.

  19. Sandy says:

    Bears seem to be everywhere this summer. A relative in northern Minnesota chases them off her deck with a broom regularly! I just saw a pile of scat behind my barn of the bear variety. One just needs to be on the look out when outdoors, especially now that the berries are coming on. Great pictures and good luck with deterring your resident bear.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Sandy. I agree — everyone I know in many different locations is encountering black bear. And also agree re: the berry season — and for me, the apples after that. Oh, dear!

  20. Judy says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Here in NJ.. especially up in the northwest part of the state, the black bear population is becoming saturated. This past Sunday (it was on the news), a group of five men were hiking in the woods and a bear was stalking them. In a panicked state, all ran and scattered. That’s the worst thing you can do.. never run! Back up slowing, facing the bear to keep an eye on it. The men should have stayed together and tried to yell and intimidate the bear. Unfortunately, four of the men got away, but one was killed by the bear. The DEP found the bear guarding the body, and shot it. The bears are losing any fear of humans and it’s becoming dangerous. Be careful working on your property, and carrying a whistle and an air horn is a good idea. Even a better idea is to invest an electrical fence, since the bears easily climb your fence.

  21. Judy says:

    Also.. carrying a good bear pepper spray (not the usual pepper spray) would be good. One that is strong enough and the stream goes at a good distance. You could find a good one online,

  22. Sally says:

    Your photos remind me of a story I heard from a realtor in Tahoe, Ca. She said someone once left the cover on their hot tub unlocked and came home to find a black bear enjoying a soak!

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