MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island has never seen a breed of snowbird like this one.
A Florida black bear left muddy tracks on a pool deck at a home on Sheffield Drive on the east end of the island, police said Wednesday, not far from where one biologist suspects the bear ambled into town, possibly from nearby Collier-Seminole State Park.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Mark Lotz said the bear's likely path was San Marco Road, which cuts through a mangrove forest and includes an 1,880-foot bridge over the intracoastal waterway. Bears can swim, though, so a wetter arrival is not out of the question.
However the bear got there, the visit is rare. Marco police say they have never been advised of a bear on the island in recent memory and are asking islanders not to panic but to take steps to keep the bear out of their neighborhood.
That means removing food sources, such as bird feeders, garbage cans, pet food and ripe fruit on trees or on the ground, the Conservation Commission advises.
Bears are on the move during breeding season from June to July, looking for food and mates, and the Conservation Commission typically sees an uptick in bear complaints this time of year.
Last week, a family of British tourists hit a black bear on U.S. 41 East, not far from San Marco Road. The bear ran off, and its fate is unknown.
What to do if you have a close encounter with Marco's newest tourist?
Remain standing upright, back away slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice, wildlife officials say. Get to a safe place and then make loud noises or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
Avoid direct eye contact. Don't turn your back, don't run, don't climb a tree and don't play dead.