Perhaps you've noticed all the gray squirrels. They seem to be everywhere, nearly one per tree. And they are fat, almost woodchuck-like in their girth. One often puts on weight when there is a readily accessible smorgasbord of food. Squirrels have had such an abundance this year, especially with the huge acorn crop last fall. The acorns kept them well fed through the winter and this year brought a healthy crop of seeds and berries. Six chunky gray squirrels visit our bird feeders daily, hanging around the base scooping up seeds tossed out by the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice.
Little do the squirrels know that the coming year will require austerity measures. There is no acorn crop. A recent article in the New York Times noted that in an average year oak trees produce 25 to 30 pounds of acorns. Last year some oaks produced 250 pounds per tree; this year, barely one-half pound. Usually fallen acorns feel like marbles under foot when we walk down Bald Hill Road. This year you have to scratch around in the leaves to find an acorn. This does not bode well for the squirrels. But this is the way of nature. Acorn crops fluctuate from year to year as do squirrel, chipmunk, and mice populations that feed on the nuts. Hawks and owls and foxes that feed on the small mammals will be affected in turn.
So acorns are down, but look around for other animal foods. Check out the birches - they are loaded with catkins this fall.
The seeds of birches are great winter foods for our small songbirds, such as chickadees and nuthatches. Ruffed grouse also seek out birch catkins. Birch seeds are not a favorite food of squirrels, but once the austerity diet kicks in this winter and next spring and summer they might take what they can get.