June 16, 2019

Wildlife: Mast is a critical wildlife food

Last week a caller to my radio show (8-10 a.m. Saturdays on WVLY-AM 1370 Wheeling, online at www.wvly.net) asked that I explain the term “mast.” It’s a great question, especially this time of year.

Fruits and nuts of trees and shrubs are collectively referred to as mast. Fleshy fruits and berries are soft mast; nuts are hard mast.

Crab apples, grapes, cherries and even poison ivy berries are sought by a variety of birds including turkeys, grouse and woodpeckers. Sweet, fleshy persimmons began ripening about two weeks ago. Birds take them on the tree while coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks and opossums gobble up those that fall to the ground.

The flat football-shaped seeds that pass through these mammals’ guts are recognizable in their scats. Hard mast including acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts, and beechnuts trigger a competitive feeding frenzy among squirrels, chipmunks, deer, bears, turkeys, mice, jays, woodpeckers and nuthatches.

Acorns, the fruits of oak trees, are the most important mast in Eastern deciduous forests. Where oaks are common, wildlife usually thrives.

Here on the ridge, we’ve had a bumper crop of black walnuts. For weeks my wife and I have been collecting walnuts and crushing them with the car to remove husks.

On cold winter nights we’ll crack the nuts and save the meat for snacks and baking.

To share the wealth, I offer a few walnuts and hickory nuts on a tray for the birds.

Scott Shalaway: www.drshalaway.com, sshalaway@aol.com.

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Wildlife: Mast is a critical wildlife food

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