STILLWATER – This time of year even a blind squirrel can find an acorn. That is because the ground is littered with them, but they might not be just lying around much longer.
An important annual event is currently taking place throughout the forests of Oklahoma. The seed of the oak, which are called acorns, are dropping and many species of wildlife are rapidly building fat reserves for the coming winter.
“While many species of wildlife take advantage of this flush of fall-nutrition, it’s the white-tailed deer we most associate with acorns. Deer hunters have long understood the importance of finding concentrations of acorn production,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “Deer have a diverse diet, but when acorns are available, few foods are as relished.”
They better hurry, though, if they want to feast on acorns because they have to compete with many other wildlife species and insects to acquire as much nutrition as possible before this resource is exhausted. “So, when the oaks begin to drop acorns, it is like manna from Heaven,” Elmore said. “While some acorns will persist all winter and a few will germinate the following spring, the bulk will be consumed by early December, in most years.”
Acorns are produced by all species of oak found in Oklahoma. While there is some variation in animal preference between the various oak species, all are consumed.
In central Oklahoma, the two most common oak are the post oak and the blackjack oak. In western Oklahoma, the dwarf shinnery oak is prevalent, while in the eastern portion of Oklahoma, species such as black oak, Shumard oak and southern red oak are more common.
Acorn production varies from year to year depending on summer rainfall and late spring frosts. Despite the variation, some amount of acorn crop can usually be expected. A moderate acorn crop was produced this year in most areas.
“During the coming days, you might consider a walk through a nearby forest to investigate the amount of acorn production in your area. You will likely notice not all oaks produce equally,” he said. “While the size of the tree crown is certainly related to the amount of acorns produced, there also is genetic variation, and some trees are predisposed to be large producers.”
From a wildlife standpoint, these are important trees to retain.
“Look for the empty caps as sign of consumption of the acorns,” said Elmore. “There is no sound as associated with fall as the light thump of acorns falling on fresh leaves. Take advantage before winter is upon us.”