The newest resident of the Wikiup neighborhood on Santa Rosa's northern outskirts has a definite swagger and a big behind.

"He struck me as a guy who has been around the block," said Jeff Sengstack, who has lived for 12 years on Vista Grande Drive. "A hefty looking guy, like he was well fed."

He, or perhaps a she, is a black bear who has been nosing around garbage cans for more than a week.

Sengstack and several other neighbors spotted the bear late Sunday after stepping outside to investigate the clang-bang of toppling bins.

"I went out on the balcony with a flashlight — it was definitely a bear," said Karl Reynolds, 61, a liquor salesman and 14-year resident of Wikiup Drive. "It was dragging a white plastic bag down below my house."

The bear prompted several calls to the Department of Fish and Game, starting with a sighting the weekend of Nov. 18 and several others the following weekend.

"It's not uncommon, I'm not totally surprised," said Stacy Martinelli, Fish and Game wildlife biologist for Sonoma County.

Martinelli gets about one call a year for sightings in the area, which backs up to Shiloh Ranch Regional Park to the north and rural properties to the north and east.

Bears that live in the rugged hills that bridge Santa Rosa and Calistoga occasionally wander into more populated areas.

"But this would be the first report of a bear in garbage," Martinelli said.

The common factor of the recent sightings: garbage day.

Residents drag the cans out on Sunday for Monday-morning pickup.

Black bears range anywhere from an 180-pound juvenile to a 400-pound adult male. And they typically eat berries, bugs, carrion and fish, if they can catch them.

Getting a bear hooked on garbage is a recipe for property damage and close encounters, said Martinelli. In the Tahoe area, black bears have been known to break into homes and topple refrigerators.

The key will be convincing this bear that there's no easy food in Wikiup.

That means keeping garbage cans in the garage and waiting to put them out until Monday morning, Martinelli said. Bears are strong and can outsmart locking bins, and it's best to keep the cans inside.

Martinelli said she hopes neighbors work to convince the bear to move along. But if the creature becomes a nuisance, wardens will act. That could involve trapping the bear and relocating it or, with more destructive animals, killing it.

A bear seen eating grapes in a Calistoga vineyard several weeks ago was trapped and relocated to "an undisclosed location," said Fish and Game spokeswoman Janice Mackey.

Sengstack said he hopes that no harm comes to Wikiup's bear visitor, and he plans to wash his bins with bleach to remove odors and keep them in the garage.

"I don't want the contact with the bear to be his demise," said Sengstack.

At about midnight Sunday, Sengstack was working in his home office when he heard a crash from outside his porch. He stepped outside and in the beam of his flashlight caught sight of a wide black bear with a touch of gray in the fur.

"I was in awe and surprised and pleased and unnerved," said Sengstack.

He tried to shoo the bear away, but the animal gave him a look that seemed to suggest he didn't plan for the midnight snack to be interrupted. Sengstack picked up a small rock.

"I flung it at him and he looked at me like, 'Oh all right,' and lumbered off."

For more information about wildlife encounters and how to keep wild animals away, visit the Fish and Game's "Keep Me Wild" website at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220, julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @jjpressdem.