|David Hill/ creative commons
Mast refers to the edible fruit of woody plants - in this case acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts. Squirrels aren't the only ones harvesting acorns; black bears, deer, raccoons, mice, bluejays, and turkeys eat them as well. The turkeys will walk up our driveway en masse, a pack of conventioneers with one thing in mind: eat the acorns!
Mary Holland writes about how birds and others eat the acorns in her wonderful field guide, Naturally Curious (review here). Deer, she says, crunch down on them with their molars and the shells left on the ground have a "distinctive mangled" look. Birds are somewhat neater, using their beaks to drill holes into the shell. A grackle secures the acorn and then uses its bill to bite down and cut the shell while turning it. In that fashion it splits the acorn in half, allowing the bird to eat the yummy nutmeat inside.
Turkeys, on the other hand, swallow acorns whole and their gizzard grinds them up later.
Squirrels and chipmunks tend to peel the shells into strips and leave middens - piles of acorn shells on logs or rocks. Mice are neater - opening acorns at the top and scooping out the insides.
So this week, when you're out walking beneath oaks, look for acorns - and signs of the animals who eat them. Drop by STEM Friday to check out books and resources other bloggers are sharing.