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Bear caught on video in Silver Spring yard stealing food from birds

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/24/2022 Dana Hedgpeth
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Carol Lessans looked out the window above her kitchen sink Tuesday morning and was stunned: As she watched, a black bear walked through her Silver Spring yard, lay down and ate seeds from her bird feeder.

Her home, along Cutstone Way, backs up to a heavily wooded area near Route 200, so she and her husband are used to seeing foxes and birds, including the occasional wild turkey. But after 33 years there, she said, it was the first time they’d encountered a black bear.

“We were like, ‘Oh my god,’ ” Lessans said.

She reached for her cellphone and recorded a short video of the bear that she later posted to Facebook. “We have a bear in our yard!!!!” she wrote.

Wildlife experts at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources saw the video and said they believe the bear was a male about 1½ years old and weighing between 100 and 200 pounds.

It is “unusual but not unheard of” to see a black bear in a D.C. suburb, said Brian Eyler, the game mammal section leader for the Maryland DNR, and this is the time of year when young male bears are venturing out and looking for their own territory. There were several reports of black bear sightings in the Silver Spring area in June 2016.

On Tuesday, Lessans said, she and her husband tried to get a better view of the bear from their screened-in porch, but when her husband made a noise, the bear fled. Hours later, even though she said she had seen a previous post about a bear sighting farther north in Montgomery County, she could scarcely believe it.

“I knew about the sightings,” Lessans said, “and you see them on Facebook, but you think, ‘Oh, they could be in another country.’ ”

In ‘rare sighting,’ a black bear was spotted in Northern Virginia

But, in hindsight, there were signs. The couple’s backyard bird feeder had been broken earlier this week in a “strange way,” said Lessans, who works as an artist. “It wasn’t as it if had fallen over and broken. It was open like another being could have done it.”

The couple joked that maybe a bear had knocked it over but didn’t think too much of it. Her husband got a new feeder and put it up.

Then, around 7 a.m. Tuesday, she saw the black bear eating from it.

Lessans said she called local wildlife authorities but got disconnected as she was being transferred. Maryland DNR officials confirmed they got a report Tuesday of a bear sighting in the Silver Spring area.

Eyler said the bear in Lessans’s yard probably came from a less-dense area to the more urban area of Silver Spring via parklands and greenways. His department recently had a report of a black bear sighting in Howard County, he said, and “this could possibly be the same bear,” although he cautioned there was no way to know.

“We don’t get them inside the Beltway as often,” Eyler said.

‘He’s figured out the big roads’: Black bear spotted nine times in D.C. suburbs

In 2014, a young black bear captured regional attention when it took officials three hours to scare it out of a tree on the grounds of the National Institutes of Health campus, near the Medical Center Metro stop in Bethesda. It was tranquilized and relocated to western Montgomery County. The year before, a young black bear was relocated after it was sedated and caught in Northwest D.C.'s Palisades neighborhood.

Black bears are native to the D.C. region, and officials said there’s a healthy population of about 2,000, mostly in western Maryland but slowly expanding outward. In the spring and early summer, young males are usually “dispersing and trying to find their own territory,” Eyler said. Think of them, he said, “as teenagers trying to find their way.”

Officials advised the public to remove any items that would attract black bears, including garbage, bird feeders and grills with grease.

Some other advice, perhaps, went without saying.

“I just wanted to go out and give it a big, old hug,” Lessans said of the bear she encountered Tuesday. “It looked so adorable. But I wouldn’t do that. I’m not crazy.”

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