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Old 03-03-2008, 08:03 PM   #1
Tom Phillips*
 
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Default Alabama Oaks, Acorns, and Wildlife (1 of 2)

http://www.pfmt.org/wildlife/somethings/appendix6.htm

Oaks, Acorns, and Wildlife
by ROBERT WATERS Wildlife Biologist USDA Soil Conservation Service

More than 20 species of oaks are native to Alabama. Some are common throughout the state. Others are found in only a few places. Some are valuable for lumber, others are of little or no value for that purpose, but the seed (acorn) of all oaks native to Alabama are valuable to wildlife.

Nutritionally, acorns are a good food concentrate for wildlife. They are high in fat and carbohydrates and they contain protein, vitamins, calcium, and phosphorus. At least 96 species of wildlife are known to feed on acorns. Among them are deer, squirrels, quail, turkey, ducks (especially mallards and wood ducks), many non-game birds, raccoons, flying squirrels, and rodents such as rats and mice.

The oaks are divided into two broad groups--the white oaks and the red oaks. The latter are sometimes called black oaks. The seed of the white oaks mature in one year; those of the red oaks require two years. Common white oaks in most of Alabama are the post oak, overcup oak, chestnut oak, swamp chestnut oak, and white oak. Common red oaks in most of the state are water oak, willow oak, laurel oak, black jack oak, northern red oak, scarlet oak, black oak, and southern red oak. The white oaks are more valuable for timber production and their acorns are generally preferred by wildlife. Some believe that wildlife prefer the acorns of white oaks because they contain less tannic acid than do acorns of the red oak group.

The following statements are based on results of research by many people in various parts of the South. They are generally true in Alabama, but there are probably exceptions in the state to each of them.

Oaks that usually grow on bottomland (water, laurel, willow, overcup, swamp chestnut, and white) usually produce more acorns than do oaks that usually grow on upland (post, black jack, southern red, black, scarlet, and northern red). Oaks that grow on bottomlands are more likely to produce a merchantable tree, also a tree that can be sold for lumber at some future time.

Acorn production varies from year to year and from species to species. For example, white oak may produce a bumper crop of acorns one year; and black jack may produce practically none. The next year black jack may have a bumper crop and white oak may produce none. However, generally an individual oak, regardless of species, that produces a good crop of acorns one year also produces a good crop every year that is productive for that species. In other words, some individual trees are better producers of acorns than are other trees of that species.

Oaks that grow on bottomland are generally larger than oaks that grow on upland. This helps account for higher acorn yields on bottomland oaks.

Acorns vary a good bit in size--even acorns from trees of the same species. Individual trees of a species may produce small acorns, other trees of that species may produce acorns twice as large. Therefore, a tree that produces only a few larger acorns may bear as many pounds of seed as another tree of that species that yields more, but smaller acorns.

Many factors influence the minimum ages at which acorn production begins. One is competition. Apparently crowded trees start producing at a later age than do trees with plenty of crown space. It usually takes about 25 years for Alabama's native oaks to get into significant acorn production.

Even during years of bumper acorn production for a species, all trees of acorn-bearing size do not produce. About 60 percent of the trees in the white oak group are productive in good years. About 90 percent of the red oaks are productive in the better years. The two most dependable acorn producers in Alabama are the water oak and the willow oak--two species that are found throughout the state. Water oak is the most consistent acorn producer; it rarely fails to produce a crop of acorns. The best seed production comes from healthy, vigorous trees with larger diameters (at least 12 inches) and well developed crowns.

Acorns are subject to heavy damage by weevils. Such damage is worse during some years than during others. As a rule, about 25 percent of the acorns that reach maturity are unsound because of damage by weevils.

None of Alabama's native oaks produce a crop of acorns every year. Numerous weather factors influence acorn production. Late spring freezes are not uncommon in Alabama. When that happens, white oaks yield few or no acorns and red oaks produce none or few the second fall after the late spring freeze.
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Old 03-03-2008, 08:05 PM   #2
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Default Alabama Oaks, Acorns, and Wildlife (2 of 2)

Just how important are acorns in the diets of wildlife? Let's look at a few of our common game species.

Deer. Acorns usually become available in quantity in September, and they are the preferred food of deer in fall, winter, and even into spring when available. A Missouri study showed that in the total volume of food eaten by deer, acorns range from 0 percent in June to 62.4 percent in October. The Missouri study lasted five years. During the five years, the percentages of acorns in the total volume of food eaten by deer in late fall and early winter were 80, 7.3, 32.6, 44.3, and 53.9. These percentages also reflect acorn production during each of the five years because consumption of acorns by deer is in proportion to acorn abundance. Researchers in Alabama and throughout the range of deer have found that acorns, when available, are the principal fall and winter food of this important game animal.

A researcher in Arizona had this to say about acorns and deer: "During a fall of acorns, deer may eat little else; and because they respond so quickly to changes in diet, deer have been recorded which have gone from thin, dry-haired condition to sleekness and good flesh in 15 days when there was a plentiful supply of acorns."

In Alabama, deer consume large quantities of forage and browse from smilax, Japanese honeysuckle, and numerous other plants, but eagerly seek and readily consume acorns when they are available. Browsing usually falls off when acorns are available in quantity. This is important in deer management because the amount of browse available on any given area usually determines that area's ability to support deer. If acorns are available in quantity, they supplement the browse and usually produce enough high quality food for good populations of deer.

Squirrel. Hunters, foresters, wildlife biologists, and others interested in squirrels know that acorns are important to both the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. An adult of either species requires about 1.5 pounds of feed per week. Their main diet consists of nuts and acorns.

Oaks in a timber stand are essential for maintaining a population of squirrels. The best gray squirrel habitat is found along streams. That's also the best place to grow merchantable hardwoods. So, the landowner who desires a crop of squirrels each year should consider leaving hardwoods, especially oaks and hickories, along streams.

It is interesting to note that the mast (seed) crop on oaks and hickories affects the reproduction of squirrels. There is usually poor squirrel reproduction in the year that immediately follows poor mast crops.

Wild Turkey. Acorns are the preferred food of the wild turkey, also. Much of what we have already said about acorns, deer, and squirrels is also true about acorns and the wild turkey. This magnificent game bird prefers acorns as food in fall and winter. Therefore, oaks are essential in goal habitat for the wild turkey, especially the oaks that produce smaller acorns.

Other Game. Many other species of game feed extensively on acorns. Quail eat them readily. Ducks, especially the mallard and wood duck, seek them out when they are available. Acorns are important for many non-game species as well.

The bottom line is this: If you desire a crop of game animals, leave on each acre of upland at least five mast-bearing oaks. These oaks should be from both the white oak and red oak groups. Then if one species fails to produce mast, the others are likely to succeed. From the standpoint of both forestry and wildlife, it is frequently good management to favor hardwoods on bottomland.
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Old 03-05-2008, 04:20 AM   #3
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Default Dang Tom. . .

You're venting all over these United States, aren't ya.

Nice read, thanks for the post.
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Old 03-05-2008, 07:52 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by 'tween_fly_ways View Post
You're venting all over these United States, aren't ya.

Nice read, thanks for the post.
Ha. Yeah, I'm dropping a few threads in different states. I didn't like seeing that "NEVER" on the State threads.

Putting in a habitat thread, and more specifically an ACORN/OAK habitat thread is also a good start for any forum.

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Old 03-18-2008, 03:02 AM   #5
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Thanks Tom. AQ and I planted 75 oak seedlings on a place we hunt this year. The bottoms are already grown up in willow oak, water oak, and water hickory so we planted live oak and sawtooth oaks on the uplands.
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Old 04-02-2008, 08:52 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Oxbow View Post
Thanks Tom. AQ and I planted 75 oak seedlings on a place we hunt this year. The bottoms are already grown up in willow oak, water oak, and water hickory so we planted live oak and sawtooth oaks on the uplands.
Oxbow,

Do you remove the lower branches from the mast-bearing oaks?

I don't think it matters for wood ducks, as they will go into brush for acorns, but mallards like the understory clear enough so they can escape easily. I have seen them hammer the acorns under oaks whose branches are a few feet off the ground. However near-by oaks with the same amount of acorns under the tree they would just ignore if the brush was too thick, or the limbs touched the ground.
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