By Jim Hagerty
Residents of Winnebago County were on high alert over the weekend after a black bear strolled into a yard in the 2100 block of Geddes Road Saturday morning, June 7.
The bear was photographed by Sheryl Hutchinson, after she and her husband spotted the animal while they were eating breakfast.
The bear peered into their house through a picture window, knocked over a bird feeder, drank from a flower pot and picked a few berries before sauntering away. Hutchinson then reported the sighting to police.
The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department then issued a series of warnings, urging business owners and residents to report sightings and stay clear of the bear.
Police say the bear was spotted around 1 a.m., Sunday, in Roscoe. A woman then reported seeing bear in a field near North Main Street and Roscoe Road at around 2 p.m., Sunday.
Police say the bear may be the same animal seen in the Freeport area last week. It likely wandered down to Illinois from Wisconsin.
Authorities say Hutchinson’s visitor is a young male in search of food and female bears. The bear is about 6 feet tall on its hind legs, Hutchinson told the Chicago Tribune. It was not aggressive, it just appeared hungry.
Saturday’s bear sighting has been the subject of more than 30 local news reports. As of this report, the bear has not been captured. Police say they plan to tranquilize the animal and transport it to a safe area in Wisconsin.
According to the DNR, black bears were driven out of Illinois around 1870. Although there have been many unofficial sightings in the last decade, the last sighting confirmed by wildlife officials occurred in 2009 in Bureau County, near Princeton, Ill.
Common in Wisconsin and Michigan, black bears are active during the day, yet tend to stay in hidden by forest cover. At night, bears will rummage through garbage, campsites and roam neighborhoods in search of food. Omnivores, black bears feed on berries, larvae, fruits and plants. They are also known for eating fish and other small animals. While rare, black bears will ambush deer.
Unlike grizzlies, black bears rarely attack when approached by people, yet can be aggressive around food. Females are also known for being protective of their cubs. Cubs stay with their mothers for up to two years before venturing off on their own. Most black bear attacks happen in parks, where tourists feed them regularly and they forage in campgrounds. Only a handful of attacks are reported each year.
There are no Illinois laws protecting black bears. That means it is legal to hunt them anywhere in the state, as of this report. However, black bears are protected under Illinois House Bill 3049 (HB 3049 ). The bill passed the state House and Senate May 5 and adds the black bear, gray wolf and cougar to the protected species list under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Pat Quin (D) in coming weeks.
Anyone who spots what looks like a black bear is urged to contact the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department at (815) 319-6000.