Squirrels are also facing an economic crisis. Apparently, acorns are disappearing all over the country...or at least on the East Coast. I know some fellow turkey hunters on the East Coast have reported a very spotty acorn crop. Supposedly it's not just acorns, but hickory nuts as well. This is very bad news for woodland creatures. Acorns are a mainstay of their winter diet and are a valuable source of protein after the grasshoppers die in first fall frosts. No acorns or hickories means less food for squirrels, turkeys, etc. That in turn means less food for owls, coyotes, and so on. If this year really is worse than most in terms of acorns, it will be interesting to see how wildlife numbers respond. Animals are very resourceful, but there is only so much to eat in the winter.
At first, you might think that this acorn crisis is happening because we have somehow altered the ecosystem in which we live and now we are watching it fall apart. The latter may be true, but I don't think it's because we're short on nuts.
Whatever the problem is, it didn't hit Central Missouri. I spend most of my free time in the woods, and I noticed no lack of nuts. In September I spent two days hunting squirrels in thick foliage by listening for the sound of their teeth grinding on hickory nuts high in the trees. After finding their general location by sound, I could pinpoint their exact spot by watching leaves shake as bits of nutshell fell to the forest floor.
While turkey hunting, I have paid special attention to acorns... if you find the acorns, you find the turkeys more often than not. On the land I hunt, the acorns were so plentiful and widespread that the turkeys were all over the place.
Two weeks ago I picked up fifty pounds of pecans from underneath a tree in the MO River bottom. Definitely no shortage of nuts there.
To the Squirrels: Although this may seem like the end of the world as we know it where you are, I assure you that there are still plenty of nuts in some parts of the continent.
Still, there is a general trend of an absence of acorns. Why could that be? The article linked above goes through some reasons. Off the top of my head I came up with some of them: One reason is that not all oak trees produce in an annual cycle, some only produce once every two years or more. Also, nut trees tend to boom and bust. For example, one year we'll get 200 pounds of pecans off a single tree, then for the next two years we'll get none.
The weather can also mess things up. Two years ago here in MO we had a late spring frost. It froze the buds and flowers on many plants. Entire fields of winter wheat were destroyed, and vineyard harvests went bust. The acorn crop was also really bad, and wild turkey numbers dropped accordingly.
This acorn disappearance reminds me of the honey bee's colony collapse disorder: a mysterious disappearance with no clear explanation. Right now, the simplest explanation for spotty acorn production is that a combination of the known variables hit at the right time. That's sort of like when both broods of cicada cycle to all breed in the same year and create a huge mess. (The last time that happened in MO there were so many cicadas that you couldn't see the bark on the trees). It may seem like an apocalyptic plague, but is really due to a few stars aligning in the right way at the right time. One year of bad acorns makes for a bad spring turkey season, but won't end the world.
If this acorn trend continues for a few more years, then I'm going to start building that concrete bunker in my backyard.
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