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Enjoy the fall season among the hardwoods
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Fall is a great time to walk in the woods and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Leaves will soon change to their vivid fall colors, and deer, turkeys, squirrels and birds are stirring as the air gets cool and crisp.
Landowners with mature hardwood forests can’t have better habitats for a diversity of wildlife species. Hardwood trees such as oaks, hickories and beeches provide nutritious hard mast (acorns and nuts) that many wildlife species readily seek as food.
Hardwood mast is not just important in the fall. In hardwood-dominant areas, mast will sometimes persist through winter into early spring. In the 1960s, researchers conducting a spring wild turkey analysis documented that more than 50 percent of the digestive contents in birds they examined was made up of acorns.
When I used to hunt bobwhite quail, I often examined what the birds had been eating. Bobwhites consume a diversity of seeds from grasses and legumes along field borders and along forest edges. In my experience, bobwhites will readily consume acorns or pieces of acorns when they are available. I don’t hunt these game birds now, but I do enjoy watching them fly to cover in front of my pointers.
More than 450 species of butterflies and moths depend on oaks, hickories and other hardwood trees. They lay eggs on the trees, and their larvae feed on leaves. In turn, many birds, including wild turkeys, songbirds and woodpeckers, use these larvae as high-protein food resources during spring and summer while nesting, producing young and molting.
In natural hardwood stands, shade-tolerant trees, shrubs and vines, such as flowering dogwood, persimmon, black cherry, plum, wild grape, holly and huckleberry (wild blueberry), grow under the canopies of mature oaks and hickories and along forest edges. These plants produce soft mast (fruits) that are relished by wildlife, particularly wild turkeys. Fruit-producing trees and shrubs are excellent plants to encourage in hardwood forests to enhance game and nongame wildlife species. Additionally, they are aesthetically pleasing.
Make time to enjoy watching white-tailed deer foraging for acorns on the forest floor or gray and fox squirrels in the trees eating acorns and nuts. Hardwood forests support a diversity of wildlife that add to land aesthetics and recreational use by people.
In terms of land value, no land type rivals hardwood forests in terms of economic value and desired land features as recreational properties. In a recent study, Mississippi State University researchers found that bottomland hardwood forests and mixed pine-hardwood forests are the most eagerly sought-after land types for purchase by land buyers in Mississippi as recreational properties. Plus, wildlife-related recreation accounted for one-third of the average sales value of rural lands recently sold in the state according to this study.
Landowners with mature hardwood forests have some of the best wildlife habitat imaginable and should enjoy our beautiful fall season in Mississippi. Invite others to walk amongst the big hardwood trees and enjoy their colors and shapes. Catch glimpses of wildlife in their native home elements.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.