Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn seeds and fruit

The days are shorter, nights cooler and the chipmunks and squirrels are working non-stop at stocking up their winter caches of food. I’ve been watching a red squirrel zipping up a Black Walnut tree, loosening the nuts, letting them fall to the ground then moving on to the next branch.

After a few minutes he scurries back down and collects the fallen nuts making several trips to his caches. The food has to last till next spring when new foods become available, since red squirrels do not hibernate and need something to eat during those cold snowy months.
There can be several of these caches in a squirrel’s territory, some underground or in tree hollows or in this case a conveniently located tractor shed with a nice gap below the door.

Yep, the shed is right next to the walnut tree, and it is now full of nuts! The squirrel has also dug an exit hole out the back in the dirt floor, in case a quick escape is needed. Since we store the tractor there in the summer only, this is a great place for the cache, away from snow and predators, this is a smart squirrel! I love hearing his chatter and watching his acrobatics in the trees, how can I resist his cuteness!
The chipmunks on the other hand will stay underground all winter and need to store foods in their burrows, which can be quite extensive.
Our whole yard is riddled with these (free lawn aeration!) and we have chipmunks popping up everywhere, chasing each other and scolding from atop all manner of perches. They also love to groom while on these perches, a most adorable creature.
These days, they are busy collecting maple keys which are plentiful, there is no end to the trips they take up the trees, returning with cheeks so stuffed they can hardly run. Of course they also spend a lot of time under the bird feeders, cleaning up the seeds fallen from above.
More plentiful than anything else are the wild grapes. This must be a bounty year for this plant! The vines, draped over fences and trees, are bearing large clusters of blue grapes that are the size of blueberries. Many animals eat these including several species of birds. The grapes will help sustain winter wildlife.

Wild grapes
 Flocks of migrating sparrows and winter seed-eating birds appreciate and depend on the seeds of native grasses. A few years ago I planted 2 native grass species, Little Blue Stem and Big Blue Stem, and 1 non-native ornamental (name escapes me).

Big Blue Stem

Little Blue Stem

Little Blue Stem seedheads

It’s telling that the Juncos and Sparrows eat the seeds of the native grasses but have never touched the seeds of the ornamental non-native grass. If you are planting grasses, chose the native ones if possible, they may not be as showy as some imports but more importantly they will provide winter food for wildlife. They also are adapted to our climate and thrive with little care. The prairie species that I planted are especially well adapted to the dry sandy moraine soil in our yard. An amazing two-thirds of the plant is actually underground, unseen, its long roots extending deep into the soil to find moisture. I never have to water these beautiful plants.

There are plenty of other wild foods such as birch seeds, acorns, berries, cones. All are important for the winter survival of many species.

When possible chose native trees and shrubs that bear fruit or seeds edible by wildlife when doing plantings. These are hardier and easier to care for. You might also get the pleasure of observing wild birds or other species from the comfort of your home, feasting on the bounty in your yard.

1 comment:

  1. Nice cache! What a lucky squirrel! Are the grapes edible? Tasty? They almost look like concord grapes!