“Cornucopia” being abundance or profusion, vast numbers of acorns might be called “acornucopia.” Eliza Howell Park is home to many productive oak trees and the acorns seem especially plentiful this year.
There is a great variety of oak trees in the park. On an afternoon walk on September 19, I was noting the varieties of acorns and collected these examples in a very short period of time.
Acorn production varies from year to year and from species to species. Overall, 2018 is a bountiful year. Some trees have as many acorns as I ever remember seeing.
One of my favorite oaks, a type of red oak, is a large tree with several low hanging branches filled with acorns that fit my mental image of the archetypal acorn.
For many wildlife, an abundance of acorns means a valuable food source as winter approaches. Dozens of mammals and birds eat acorns. Acorns make up about 25% of the diet of White-tailed Deer in the fall. An abundant acorn crop often means healthier deer heading into the breeding season.
This stag, which crossed the EHP footbridge right before me one day last fall, may well have been foraging for acorns.
Rabbits, raccoons, opossums, even foxes, eat acorns. And squirrel consumption of acorns is so well known that I need not comment.
Many of the mammals feed at night, but it is easy to watch the different birds getting their acorns. The greatest in number are Blue Jays (see “Blue Jays Harvesting Acorns,” August 27, 2018). They, along with Red-bellied Woodpeckers and American Crows, pick the acorns in the tree. Grackles, on the other hand, feed on the ground under trees for the fallen ones. Jays crack the acorns open with repeated pecks with their beaks; grackles have a sharp ridge in their beak (keel) which they use to open the shell.
Some birds eat acorns whole and let their gizzards do the work of grinding the food. Wild Turkeys, birds that eat many acorns, have been found in EHP in recent years.
Wood Ducks also eat lots of acorns. They will be leaving the park soon, heading south for the winter, but they are still around now and are often on the banks of the river, where their nutrient sources include acorns.
Photo by Margaret Weber
Every year, in late summer and fall, the presence of acorns calls my attention to the number and variety of oak trees in the park and I spend some time trying to get to know them better. It is not easy to identify some of them by species name, since there are so many different species in the eastern U.S. and oaks do hybridize.
I recently collected a few acorns, each with a leaf from its tree, for more leisurely study at a later time.
We have all heard that “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
A few acorns do grow into large trees, but most of the many, many thousands of acorns present in Eliza Howell right now serve other valuable purposes: food for wildlife and an opportunity for me and others to admire, enjoy, and learn.