Oak trees: More than acorns and limbs for tire swings
By Alyssa Nyberg
In rural Northwest Indiana, we are lucky that majestic oaks are still a prominent feature of our outdoor world. In fact, oaks grow so prolifically in our sandy soils that they sometimes seem like weeds! There are twelve species of oak found here, the most common being the black oak (Quercus velutina), white oak (Quercus alba) and pin oak (Quercus palustris).
Oaks are much more than large, attractive trees which produce acorns for wildlife and have sturdy limbs for tree swings. Oaks happen to harbor more species of moths and butterflies than any other tree family in the United States. That’s a very meaningful thing, especially this time of year.
Right now, the birds outside our windows are busy singing, creating nests, mating and sitting on eggs. Soon enough they will be busy feeding their ravenous chicks. Here’s where it gets interesting. According to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, 98% of all songbirds feed caterpillars and larva to their young. That means that bluebirds, scarlet tanagers, sparrows, robins, phoebes, chickadees, wrens and more of our songbirds all benefit from the larval diversity that oaks provide.
Birds make multiple trips per hour from dawn to dusk gathering caterpillars and larva for the mouths of their hungry nestlings. The closer the food sources, the shorter and easier the food foraging trips for the parents. The more food the chicks get, the more likely the chicks will be to successfully fledge the nest.
We often think of birds eating seeds, which they do, but insects, spiders, caterpillars and larva provide the bulk of protein for most young birds and many adult birds as well. Our birdfeeders can be important food sources for the adult birds, but oaks can be an even more important living birdfeeder which provides a constant food source for the next generation of birds.
Friday, April 24 is Arbor Day in Indiana. This Arbor day, consider planting an oak or mowing around a sprouting acorn in your yard and letting it grow. By doing so, you will be providing a source of food for our resident and migratory birds. Better yet, you will be contributing to the greater landscape habitat for our local birds. Such nearby natural spaces as Willow Sough Fish and Wildlife Area, Conrad Savanna, Beaver Lake Nature Preserve and LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area all have oaks as a dominant tree in their landscape. With oaks in your landscaping, you will be strengthening the quality of natural habitat in northwest Indiana.
But best of all, by planting an oak this Arbor Day, you will have the solace of knowing that you put a little extra luck in the side of the young birds this year.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands of Indiana and Illinois is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information click here or call the office at 219-285-2184.