Dec 06 2008

Acorn Plot?

Published by at 7:03 am under Mammals,Schenley Park

Gray squirrel (photo by Chuck Tague)

Gray squirrel (photo by Chuck Tague)

Squirrels made national news this week.  (30 Nov - 6 Dec 2008)

On November 30 the Washington Post reported there are no acorns this year in northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.  The next day NPR picked up the story.

The total absence of acorns is puzzling scientists but not worrying them yet.  Oaks have natural boom and bust cycles.  However, having zero acorns puts the squirrel population in jeopardy.  They have far less to eat this winter and some will starve.  To prevent this people in Virginia have started feeding them store-bought hazelnuts!

But I couldn't help wondering.  Was this just an "Inside the Beltway" phenomenon?  Are there no acorns anywhere in the U.S. or did squirrels become national news because there are no acorns in D.C.?  Is this a plot by the squirrels to get handouts all over the country even though there's more than enough to eat everywhere else?  I decided to conduct my own research.

On my way through Schenley Park I stopped beneath a stand of oak trees and sifted through the leaves.  I found acorn caps and some rotten acorn pieces but nothing I'd call a "new" acorn.  Were these leftover acorns from last year?  Did the squirrels eat or cache all the good ones?   Did I accidentally find the dump where all the old leaf litter ended up?

I didn't feel qualified to answer these questions so I turned to Google and they pointed me to the PA Game Commission website.  The Game Commission tracks the acorn crop because it's such an important food for wild turkeys, deer and bears.   There I learned that acorns are indeed variable across the state this fall.  In Westmoreland County the Game Commission reported a good crop, in the Pittsburgh area it was rated "fair," and in northcentral, northwestern and southcentral PA (closest to D.C.) it was considered "poor."

So it isn't a plot.  It isn't a conspiracy.  Some squirrels are going to suffer.  Not mine, though.  They're fat and sassy, eating from my neighbor's black walnut tree.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Acorn Plot?”

  1. Lauren Conkleon 06 Dec 2008 at 8:09 am

    Hi Kate,

    I live in Washington County, Pa., and I have three semi-mature pin oak trees in my backyard. Normally, I have to sweep tons of acorns off my patio every day once the nearest tree begins to drop them. My house is situated on a fairly steep hill, so I have to be careful walking around out there in the fall because it’s like trying to walk on a floor covered with marbles! Not so this year. Only leaves littered my patio and yard every day. I missed watching the squirrels sneak onto the patio to gather acorns this fall. There simply aren’t any acorns out there to gather. I hope my squirrels won’t starve. I would be more than willing to put up with sweeping every day if I could get the squirrels back. I have red-tail and Cooper’s hawks in my neighborhood, so I hope they will be OK this winter. I wonder how much they depend on squirrels for prey.

  2. Dawn Fineon 06 Dec 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Poor squirrels. We have literally tons of hickory nuts here in NC this year in my sisters yard. I mean a banner crop…I think your squirrels should head this direction…though i dont know if the shell is too hard for them to crack.

  3. Marjorieon 06 Dec 2008 at 9:20 pm

    That’s an interesting bit of news…when I first moved out of the suburbs to Armstrong Co. I did not see any squirrels (quite a few chipmunks) for the first 3 years. Last spring we saw 1 and this winter we’ve had one that never goes near the slinky feeder with peanuts in shells, but sits in a small clear plastic feeder with a dome on top. Funny to watch it sit with its tail and half its butt hanging out. This one seems to like seeds!!! (Or is it because there are no acorns around?! Hmmm.) Saw a black squirrel up in Canada — neat-looking.

  4. Kristenon 07 Dec 2008 at 2:25 am

    Odd. I was just in DC right before Thanksgiving and I counted 14 fat squirrels in the park near the Capitol. They were busily munching on something, so if no acorns I think they’ll be OK.

    Dawn, I grew up on an acre’s worth of shagbark hickory trees. Trust me, squirrels can eat those nuts. And they’ll throw the shells at you if you get too close during courting season. It wasn’t safe to go out into our yard without a helmet during certain months of the year!

  5. Doug Baumanon 22 Dec 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Some Oaks drop acorns only every two years. And somehow they synchronize themselves. That’s why the loss of the American Chestnut tree to the blight was such a bad thing for wildlife.

    Read more here:

    Doug Bauman

  6. Kate St. Johnon 14 Sep 2009 at 9:13 am

    Monday, September 14, 2009:
    This morning during my walk to work I noticed that the acorn crop in Schenley Park is HUGE this year. There are so many acorns falling from the trees on Bartlett Street that the cars are crushing them into a dust that fills the gutter.

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