Two categories of oak provide plenty of acorns for wildlife | Outside

JERRY DAVIS for Lee Sports Wisconsin

The oak tree, genus Quercus, is bumped, climbed, sat under and fed by many people during hunting, hiking, firewood cutting and photography in the fall.

Years ago an author wrote that “the white oak, Quercus alba, is chief among the oaks and most remarkable among the trees”.

It is found in the southern half of Wisconsin and much of the eastern United States. Some trees have lived up to 800 years.

A small plantation of bur oaks, a different species of oak from the white oak group, attracted wild turkeys, deer of all ages, and squirrels daily. Fallen acorns and those on low, hanging branches were eaten first.

While some animals can climb or fly to higher limbs, deer are confined to “giraffe” and stand on their hind legs to reach higher in the tree. As more and more acorns fall, most are picked from the ground.

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Ruffed grouse and other larger birds also consume acorns, sometimes waiting by the roadside for vehicles to break the mast, crack the shell, and crack the nut into smaller pieces for easier ingestion.

If available, white oaks, including swamp white, bur and common white, are favorite deer food, even to the point of bypassing alfalfa, soybeans and corn for acorns early in the season. the season.

During years of high mast production in some trees, wildlife will continue to forage under these oaks well into winter, if necessary rummaging through the snow for nuts, usually by smell.

Another group of oaks, and sometimes the only one present, is the red group, which includes red, black and pine oaks, to name a few. Bark, leaves, acorns and a number of lower characters separate oak trees into these two categories – white and red.

Oak pollen flowers are in catkins and fruit flowers in tiny clusters. White oak acorns, the fruit of the oak tree, move from flower to acorn for a year, beginning in April and falling in October. Red oaks take twice as long, with all red oaks having acorns hanging from the trees during the winter. White oaks will be devoid of acorns during the winters.

The presence of acorns during the winter is yet another way to separate the two groups of oak trees. When simple leaves are present, rounded leaf lobes are found on all white oaks. Red oak leaves have silk-tipped leaves.

While red oak acorns are fed by wildlife, white ones – if present – are still preferred.

A hungry hunter probably won’t consider acorns food, but eating one for that purpose would be no different from grabbing a wild apple and taking a bite of it. Both are fruits; both can be relatively sweet. Red oak acorns aren’t that sweet.

An interesting and history-preserving occurrence is still common with some older white and bur oaks. Free-growing trees, those that grew in savannahs and thin woods, often had branches extending wide and far from the lower trunk region. As these thin woods and savannahs grew into massive woods, the elongated branches were shaded, often dead but hanging like leafless skeletons, leading to the trees being called open-growing oaks now standing in a thick forest. This changed as the woods matured, but still allowed us to see what people saw 200-300 years ago.

Oak wood has many uses, in part because the weight of the wood is twice that of white pine.

At this point, however, the fruits of the oak trees are most significant. Appreciate and enjoy this tree. To do this, we must recognize that there are two groups of oaks.

Jerry Davis is a freelance writer. Contact him at or 608.924.1112.


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