This summer’s drought has been hard on wildlife, it’s no secret. The scarcity of standing water has changed habitats and the failure or shortage of traditional feed crops has caused deer to stress secondary forage sources in some areas. The result is what naturalists refer to as “over-browse”, a condition where even leafy secondary food sources have been used up. With winter coming on and the Ohio deer heard at near record numbers, some believe the forecast is grim and brings the possibility of deer starvation.In Northeast Ohio the drought has caused some trees to abort their nuts during the hot summer months. This is of great concern to conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts as deer depend upon nuts, mostly acorns, as a food source to carry them through the winter months when there is little green vegetation.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources official Nut Survey numbers won’t be in for several weeks, but Lee Crocker with the Ohio Division of Forestry says this year’s acorn crop will pull our deer through the winter. “It’s spotty, kind of hit or miss in some places, but overall we’re going to have a fairly decent nut crop.” Crocker says that although Northeast Ohio’s fruit trees suffered much damage from several late frosts, nature has certain safeguards to keep wildlife fed. “There are two families of oaks, the red oak and the white oaks. The white oaks flower every year, usually in late April or early May”, says Crocker. Although the frosts came late, most white oaks avoided frost damage and have produced an adequate acorn supply. “Now, the red oaks only flower every two years,” he continued. “So for the red oak crop to have failed this year would mean there was a bad frost in 2011, and that didn’t happen. Also, away from Lake Erie in Central Ohio apples and other fruit have done fairly well.” He notes that our deer aren’t alone in this matter, nuts are vital to the health of many different species of wildlife. “Already we see squirrels cutting on chestnuts, hickory and walnuts, as well as wild grapes. I was concerned about the drought at first too, but it looks like it’s going to be a decent year; not as good as 2010 but still better than 2011, which was an off year.”
Encouraged by what I was hearing, I asked him point blank about the concerns I’ve been hearing that Ohio’s deer herd could face starvation this winter. Crocker said, “I can’t imagine that. A deer is a browser and even if it came to depletion of other food sources, it begins to eat woody vegetation. Sometimes this happens even too much and we see tree damage but I just can’t imagine that we’d be in a starvation situation statewide this year.”
However, if you want to see wildlife on your property this fall/winter season, remember that you’re in competition with other areas that might draw wildlife away. That is to say, if you want to see deer and birds in your area, you need to feed them. Ask at your local farm supply store about deer blocks or bird feeds and how to situate them on your property to best attract viewable wildlife.