Animals enjoy nature’s harvest

By Scott Stegenga
Special to The Courier

As summer comes to a close, nature’s harvest will continue to ripen and the harvesters will soon get a jump on the bounty that hangs free for the taking. The crews doing all the collecting are the various mammals and birds that depend on the forest’s mast and fruit crops every fall. Each creature has its favorite nut, seed or berry, and if you don’t observe them in action, you can often see the signs left behind by a hungry forager.

One piece of evidence a person may notice are areas where the ground is covered by fragments of pine cones, bits of hickory nut shells or nibbled pieces of acorns. These cuttings are the work of the gray squirrel as it begins the process of preparing for colder weather. It is often the sound of gnawing or falling scraps of husks and cones that reveals the busy rodent up in the foliage of a tree. Gray squirrels also enjoy the fruits of dogwoods and shower the ground with these cuttings as well.


Special to The Courier
Squirrels and other animals are loading up on the abundant fruits, berries, seeds and nuts available as summer comes to a close throughout the Upstate.

Chipmunks will increase their foraging activity and will be storing away large amounts of seeds and nuts. They can carry several nuts in cheek pouches at once and may store away up to 8 pounds for winter use. Several of the seed pods produced by sweet shrubs will be visited by the highly arboreal golden mouse. The tell-tale sign these mice leave behind is a round hole chewed into the pod, hanging void of its seeds.

Black bears will be seeking out oaks and beeches for ample sources of acorns and beech nuts since the soft mast crops such as blackberries, cherries and blueberries are no longer available. Bears and skunks boldly raid yellow jacket nests to get at the calorie-rich larvae, and many nests are dug up throughout the summer and fall. This feeding habit of these mammals allows hikers and hunters to notice the nests a bit easier and perhaps better avoid some painful stings. Fleshy persimmons and wild grapes will be plucked by raccoons and opossums as they forage among the tree limbs or on the ground. Once a persimmon turns soft and mushy, they are a tasty treat for humans as well.

FallsFeastMany species of migrating and year-round resident songbirds will be helping themselves to dogwood fruits, poison ivy berries and a variety of other berries, seeds and nuts. Blue jays are prominent planters of acorns. Jays bury hundreds of acorns, thus helping to propagate new oak trees when the seeds are not recovered later.

As more food falls to the ground, the harvest will intensify and be joined by other animals such as deer, mice and turkeys. The coming of autumn is definitely a time of work and reward for many types of wildlife. From September through November, the forest’s table will be set, the food will be served and the big feast will be underway once again.

Scott Stegenga is an interpretive ranger at Table Rock State Park.