WATERVILLE — Police have received multiple reports of a bear wandering through residential neighborhoods in the city this week.

A wildlife expert said if residents make food sources inaccessible, the animal probably will return to the wild.

The first sighting was reported at 5 a.m. Monday on Pleasantdale Avenue, Police Chief Joseph Massey said.

A resident called police and said he saw a bear on his property, but it was gone by the time officers arrived and searched the area.

Around 9 p.m., another resident reported seeing a bear in a funeral home parking lot on Silver Street.

“Again the officers went up, but by the time they got there, it had wandered off. We spent considerable time trying to locate it,” Massey said.

Police were concerned because the bear was spotted in the middle of a populated area, the chief said.

The best way to get a bear to leave an urban area is to deny it access to food, said Judy Camuso, wildlife director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The challenge is, in an area like Waterville, there usually are a lot of neighbors you have to get on board,” she said.

Shortly after the Silver Street sighting, a person on Crommett Street also reported seeing a bear.

After each sighting, police officers checked trash cans but did not see signs the bear had tried to get into the garbage.

He said if police find the bear, they will respond primarily to make sure people don’t interact with it, and they will work with the warden service to possibly remove it from the city.

Bear sightings can be reported to the police at 680-4700.

Camuso encouraged residents to take in their bird feeders and clean up piles of bird food underneath them. If pets are fed outside, residents should move the food to an area that can be secured, such as a garage, or into the house. Garbage should be kept indoors until it needs to be taken to the curb. She also advised residents with grills to keep them clean.

Camuso said her department often deals with people who don’t understand why they are discouraged from feeding the bears, given that baiting bears is permitted.

“Bait keeps bears in the woods, away from human dwellings,” she said. “It’s food in people’s backyard that attracts bears.”

With 30,000 bears, Maine has the largest bear population in the eastern United States, Camuso said.

She said bears are found primarily in northern Maine, but are moving to more populated areas of the state.

There have been about 530 bear complaints in the state so far in 2014, which is on par with a typical year, she said.

In rare situations, and after other options are exhausted, the department would try to relocate a bear, she said. Relocation, however, isn’t always successful, and if people don’t make food unavailable the same bear – or another one – will return to the neighborhood.

“If there’s no food available, they aren’t going to stay,” she said.

Black bears are generally not aggressive and are primarily interested in looking for food, she said. If residents encounter a bear, they are advised to make noise, make themselves look big and slowly back away.

“Most of the time they are going to look up at you and amble off,” she said.