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Roosting bruin: It's not everyday you see a black bear up a tree standing in a heron's nest

Midland residents Ken and Susan MacDonald were shocked to see a black bear high up in a tree during a visit to a great blue heron colony

It’s not often one goes birding and sees a roughly 125-pound specimen high up in a tree.

But that’s what happened to Midland residents Ken and Susan MacDonald during an expedition Tuesday to view a heronry in Severn Township.

Expecting to view a colony of adult great blue herons and their chicks, they were astonished to see a medium-sized black bear high up in a tree, hovering over a heron’s nest.

"My wife saw a big black shape so we got our binoculars and there was a bear standing upright," said MacDonald, who serves as program director of the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists.

“This must have been one determined bear. As far as the height of the tree, I thought it looked like the height of a four- or five-storey building, which puts it in the 60- to 75-foot range.

"We wondered whether he might come down undercover of nightfall because we were a little surprised that none of the adult birds in the herony seemed to be making any sweeps, or doing any defensive tactics."

While the site was extraordinary, MacDonald said he hopes the bear doesn’t become a colony regular.

“Bears are omnivores and will eat anything available so they will go after eggs and baby birds,” said MacDonald, who noted they didn’t actually see the bear eat any chicks or eggs from the nest, but worries he could become a regular visitor.

"Raccoons are famous for doing this and they're related to bears. Herons build their nest in the middle of ponds on top of tall, spindly trees. And I guess the idea is to try to make it more difficult for predators like raccoons."

And while most area residents are used to seeing one or two great blue herons at a time along a marshy area, the birds tend to nest in colonies, according to MacDonald.

They decided to return to the Severn spot after viewing 50 adult herons there in the spring.

“There are still a good number of nests there,” said MacDonald, who declined to give the herony’s exact location.

"Basically, it's an area that my wife and I walk out in the woods.It’s off a trail so we have to bushwhack to get there.We've been doing a lot of bird watching during the pandemic."

Although perhaps not as widely known in areas where the site of black bears aren't common, the animals are excellent climbers and good swimmers. 

"Climbing is second nature to a black bear," Hinterland Who's Who reports on its website. "Young animals readily take to trees when frightened. They climb with a series of quick bounds, grasping the tree with their forepaws and pushing with their hind legs. When descending they travel backwards, frequently dropping from the tree from heights up to 4.5 m. Once on the ground, they quickly disappear into the underbrush, apparently unshaken by the abrupt descent."

Got a climbing bear story? Tell us about it below.


Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Community Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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