Black bear drinks from hummingbird feeder in Wisconsin

An expanding bear range means more of us are seeing and coming in contact with a creature that by nature is shy and elusive. But it's food that drives a black bear. They're an adaptive and opportunistic forager, which means black bears are learning to tolerate humans especially if food can be found.

Christine Schreiner sent Fox 9 this video of a bear drinking the sweet nectar from her hummingbird feeder in Wisconsin.

Bird feeders are a regular attractant and once a bear finds them, they'll keep coming back. So if you don't like seeing them, the solution is simple.

“The only thing you can really do in the city is reduce the attractants,” said Dr. Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center. “It's not that they want to be by people. It's all about hunger.”

The fact is black bears are ravenous eaters. The average bear consumes three to five pounds of food a day and that doubles in the fall when they're trying to fatten up for the winter.

While black bears will eat almost anything, they'd rather not.

“They prefer wild food actually, but some years there's not a lot of wild food,” said Rogers. “Especially here in the North Country where there's no acorns, only occasionally, a good hazelnut crop. You get a frost that kills the berries then the bears are into the campgrounds because they have no choice."

FOX 9 BEAR WEEK: Living safely with bears as their territory expands south

Changing forests and the need for more space have pushed black bears from the north to farther south in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Andy Tri conducts regular bear population studies. He's finding that bear density in the traditional northern forests fluctuates with food availability. A bad berry or hazelnut year will force bears to look elsewhere for food, so they straggle into other areas and some never come back.

Black bears are opportunistic. They learn quickly how to adjust to their new home surroundings.  While they prefer their natural foods of berries, acorns, hazelnuts, roots, insects and some meat, a black bear will learn to love other things. In farm land, they’ll eat corn. In populated areas, bears will eat anything you or your pets will.

“They'll only come to places that they can find some food and part of the food is agricultural, so they'll follow strips of corn fields or something like that and they keep moving,” Garshelis said. “They actually follow each other. Bears leave a trail through the woods and a bear will follow another bear."

In the eyes of the Minnesota DNR, an expanding home range for black bears does not necessarily mean there are too many bears.

"We actually want more bears so we've backed off on the hunting pressure and we want the population to increase a bit,” Garshelis said.

So with that, don't be surprised if you're lucky enough to see one of Minnesota's most elusive forest animals a little farther from the northern forest than you might expect.

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