Authored by Erik Thomas
Wake Audubon board member Erik Thomas engaged in monitoring of the Lumber River IBA (Important Bird Area) on October 6-8, 2017. He was able to conduct counts at 27 of the 41 roadside sites over the weekend. The weather was rainy and some of the counts took place in drizzle. The hope was that he could document southward-bound migrants in the area. Unfortunately, the only transient birds that appeared were a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and two Black-and-white Warblers, and the latter may have been wintering in the area. One surprise was a flock of Cattle Egrets, which are common in that area in the spring but unusual this late in the year. They were feeding, predictably, with a herd of cows, but not at any of the official count sites. The big stars of the trip were acorn-eating birds. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, and Blue Jays each appeared at most of the sites. There were Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers at some sites as well. They were all vocal and foraging actively for acorns. At this time of year, these birds are busy collecting and caching acorns for winter storage, and they play a crucial role in disseminating acorns to locations far from the parent tree. Oaks are highly dependent on jays and woodpeckers for spreading their seeds. Many nut-caching birds, including jays, have phenomenal memories for locations where they have buried nuts, but they never retrieve every nut they’ve cached.
You may not have thought of acorns as a food source, but they are edible. In fact, Native Americans in California relied heavily on acorns as a source of food. If you have a ready supply of acorns, you can make acorn bread. Some labor is involved, however. First, you have to crack and clean the acorns. This is the step that involves the most work. Acorn shells are soft and a standard nutcracker will suffice. Some acorns will have weevil larvae, so you’ll have to remove the weevils and frass. (Hint—put the weevil larvae in your birdfeeder.) You’ll probably want to peel off the fibrous covering from the nut meats. Once you’ve done that, you need to chop the acorn meats into small pieces. Then you boil them in several changes of water—two or three changes of water will do for white oak acorns, but you’ll probably need more for red oak acorns. The purpose of the boiling is to leach out the bitter tannins. Once that part is done, dry the chopped acorns out. You may want to beat them into a powder at this point. Then you’ll need equal amounts of acorn meal, flour, and milk, as well as an egg, a few tablespoons each of sugar and cooking oil, a tablespoon or two of baking powder, and a little salt. Mix the dry and fluid ingredients separately and then mix the two together. Pour the batter into a baking pan and bake it at 250º for an hour. The bread will appear marbled with brown streaks when you cut into it, and it has a unique but pleasant flavor.