EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — What was once an unusual sight in Connecticut is starting to become more common.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said the state’s black bear population is growing, with annual sighting reports having increased dramatically. The agency is spreading the word so residents can learn how to safely coexist with bears.

Biologists have been tracking bear populations and their paths throughout the state. This time of year, sightings typically increase as the bears come out of hibernation and seek food, but there’s been more reports of them in neighborhoods, according to DEEP.

Just five years ago, Connecticut’s bear population topped out at 800, but now officials say it’s grown to nearly 1,200.

Since the bears can show up in any town, DEEP said they’ll likely catch people by surprise.

“I moved into my house and within two weeks, I found a bear looking at me through a sliding glass window,” said Mike Zibel of West Hartford.

Black bears usually live in the forest and can often be found near streams, swamps and rock ledges.

Bears are omnivorous, so they tend to feed on grasses, plants, fruits, nuts, and berries. However, they are known to seek other food sources such as bird feeders, insects (mainly ants and bees), dead animals, and garbage cans. Bears also occasionally prey on small mammals, deer, and livestock, according to DEEP.

Residents are urged to remove potential food sources such as bird feeders from around their homes to help reduce the chances of a bear coming nearby.

Here are some other tips from DEEP:

  • Bring out trash the morning of collection
  • Do not leave pet food outdoors overnight
  • Do not put meats or sweet-smelling fruit in composite piles
  • Clean grills after use and store in a garage or shed

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management says they have also seen an increase in bears making Rhode Island land home over the last several years.

“We get dozens of bear sightings, more than we used to for sure.” said DEM’s Michael Healey.

Healey adds that this time of year, Rhode Islanders may see one particular bear.

“The bears that Rhode Islanders see most typically at this time of year are juvenile males that have been kicked out of their den, don’t have a home range, and are just following their noses to easily available food.” said Healey.

Healey and the DEM don’t see the bears going away any time soon either.

“We believe the level of bear activity we’ve been experiencing over the past two to three years is ‘the new normal’ and Rhode Islanders are going to need to learn how to live with bears, which means minimizing interaction with them.” added Healey.