Abundant crops of acorns, beech nuts and other less-well-known species are providing wildlife across at least parts of the Northeast with an unusually bountiful feast that is fattening every animal that depends on them, from mice to turkeys, deer and bears.
The volume of nuts and berries in the woods this fall is so great in some areas that birds are staying away from backyard feeders, prompting calls of concern to experts. But there’s nothing wrong, experts say; the birds are just finding plenty to eat in the woods, so there’s no reason for them to visit feeders.
“It is truly a bounty for our wild animals this year,” said Scott Darling, a biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, who said the sound of chipmunks and squirrels in the woods this fall “is almost deafening.”
Andrew Timmins of the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game attributed the abundance to the wet summer and the lack of a late frost last spring.
“There are no losers in these abundant food years,” Timmins said.
There is no central record keeping of the health of the forest nut production, and it’s unclear how far the regional bounty extends.
Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said his state is also reporting a bumper crop, if not a record crop, of hickory nuts this year. Acorns from red and white oak and beech nuts are also plentiful.
“Within our state’s boundaries, we are looking at this abundance statewide,” Lau said.
But it doesn’t extend to Michigan. Katie Keen, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the forest food crop this year in the northern Lower Peninsula is on the lower end.
She said some years, acorns cover the forest floors of the northern Lower Peninsula. “This just isn’t one of those years,” she said.
Back in northern New England, the small animals feasting on the nuts and berries are also providing themselves as food for the animals that prey on them — foxes, coyotes and bobcat, not to mention pine martens, mink and fisher.
“It impacts up the food web,” said Robert Cordis, wildlife special projects coordinator with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “It’s not just the primary consumers, but all the way up the chain.”
Bears are not looking for food in trash cans or bird feeders, and complaints from humans are way down, Vermont bear biologist Forrest Hammond said. Bears are also staying out of their dens longer, and it’s expected Vermont’s just-completed bear hunt will see higher numbers taken by hunters.
One potential downside is that ticks will thrive on the rodents that live on the forest floor, but any increase won’t come right away, Hammond said. The tick population would be expected to grow next season. Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks would be expected to be greatest the year after that, in 2019.