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Wildlife Thrives on Acorn Bounty
A concise education about acorns, along with a description of the major animals and birds that eat them around the United States. Written by Zoë Fox Waltz.
“Large streams from little fountains flow,
Tall oaks from little acorns grow.”
For some, fall reminds us it is the great mast season when we’re walking our dog and we stumble upon piles of fresh fallen acorns among the multi-
The acorns that seem to multiply during this time of year play a key role in the survival of more than 100 US vertebrate species. With tiny acorns, you can feed such wildlife as wild turkey, crows, mallards, quail, squirrels, deer and foxes, among others. All acorn-
Acorns in a Nutshell
Acorns are one of the most valuable food sources for wildlife because they are easily accessible and available in several geographic areas. As you probably know, acorns fall from oak trees. A fun fact is that an oak tree is any tree from the genus Quercus, meaning “beautiful tree” in Latin (Line).
Like wine, acorns can be divided into two groups: red and white oak. Also similar to wine, the red varieties have more tannins (bitterness), while white oak acorns are sweeter. You can identify the red oak acorns by their pointed lobes; they differ from the white acorns’ rounded lobes. However, the most significant difference between the two types of acorns is their maturation period. White oak acorns mature in a single year and sprout soon after they fall to the ground. Birds and animals usually eat white oak acorns as soon as they find them. They are critical for building energy reserves before cold weather strikes (Krautwurst). On the other hand, red oak acorns take two years to mature, don’t sprout until the following spring and contain three times as much fat. Birds and animals rely on red oak acorns for their winter stash for these reasons.
The two most recognizable and prolific acorn-
Learn how to eat acorns like a Blue Jay here:
Rodents have to eat, too.
Chipmunks, mice and squirrels are all major consumers of acorns that belong to the rodent family. In both wooded and urban environments, they are able to subsist mainly on oak trees’ abundance of acorns. While chipmunks transport acorns in their mouths to a buried storage locations, squirrels oftentimes eat acorns as soon as they find them. Chipmunks, mice and squirrels all favor the low tannin, white oak acorns (Briggs & Pyare).
Ever seen a gray squirrel eating an acorn up close? Also, find out where that squawking noise is coming from here:
Acorns for the Big Game
The largest mammal whose fall diet consists of at least 55% white oak acorns is the white-
Acorns are a vital source of energy for wild animals and birds. During fall, they make sure to eat as many white oak varieties as they can find. At the same time, they store red oak acorns in buried holes to return to and sustain themselves with throughout the winter. They go for the white oak acorns immediately because they are sweeter and sprout almost as soon as they hit the ground, thus making them inedible. The red oak acorns don’t sprout until the following spring, so they can savor them during the cold months. More importantly, the red oak acorns contain three times the amount of fat as white oak acorns. Therefore, the animals and birds are able to eat fewer and fill fuller. Without acorns, these animals will starve or fail to reproduce successfully. They serve as a lifeline to spring and beyond.
Briggs, John M., and Kimberly G. Smith. "Influence of Habitat on Acorn Selection by Peromyscus Leucopus." Journal of Mammalogy 70.1 (1989): 35-
“How to Eat Acorns Like a Blue Jay.” YouTube, uploaded by Evan Barrientos, 18 Dec. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJdzouzqZLI.
Krautwurst, Terry. "Oaks, acorns and you: magnificent oak trees and their acorns sustain countless wild creatures." Mother Earth News Oct.-
Line, Les. "WHEN NATURE GOES NUTS." National Wildlife Oct.-
Murray, Jeff. "Acorn Secrets Uncovered." Field & Stream Sept. 2007: W32. Student Resources in Context. Web.
Pyare, Sanjay, Julie A. Kent, Diane L. Noxon, and Michael T. Murphy. "Acorn Preference and Habitat Use in Eastern Chipmunks." The American Midland Naturalist 130.1 (1993): 173-
“Squawking Squirrel Eating Acorn September 18, 2014.” YouTube, uploaded by Don Gagnon, 18 Sept. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nTv6i6dKs4.
"55%." Outdoor Life Oct. 2015: 16. Student Resources in Context. Web.
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