Mainers who want to avoid having bears wander through their backyards should take in their bird feeders, a state wildlife official said Friday.

Bears that have recently emerged from hibernation often find few sources of food in the woods in early spring, said Scott Lindsay, a regional wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. He said the smell of seeds in a feeder will often attract bears because it represents an easy meal.

“Their sense of smell is excellent – far more acute than ours – and they can smell it from far away,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay said it’s difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a bird feeder that will outwit a bear. He said people try all sorts of tricks to keep squirrels from getting to a bird feeder, and bears are bigger and smarter than squirrels.

Bird feeders, he said, should come down in the spring and not go out again until the fall.

“I take mine down on tax day and I don’t put it up again until Halloween,” Lindsay said.

He said the problem of bears searching out bird feeders is not necessarily worse this year than in years past, but every year seems to bring complaints about bears going into suburban neighborhoods. The problem begins to ease in late June, he said, when bears can find more plentiful food in the woods.

Lindsay said it’s usually younger bears – 1 or 2 years old – that are attracted to feeders because older bears are more adept at foraging.

“They’re no longer with their mother,” he said. “It’s analogous to adolescents – they’re going to do things that are not good for them.”

Maine’s bear population is considered stable to slightly growing now, but has increased over the last decade, Lindsay said. That, coupled with more housing near bear habitat, has led to an increasing possibility of bear-human encounters. Residents who encounter a bear are urged to keep their distance and contact the Maine Warden Service.