Outdoor Encounters

By Nathan Bolls on November 7, 2018

   Lots of people like the smorgasbord fashion of dining, at least occasionally.  But another smorgasbord exists, and it’s all around us 24/7/365 & 1/4th.  The menu varies with the season, but it occurs throughout our campus as well as our rural hills and valleys.  Wild animals dine, without reservations, both night and day, and on an endless variety of goodies, depending upon the species—and time of year.

   With help from Mark Morton, our quite able Groundskeeper, I have assembled a list of CAMPUS trees and shrubs to suggest both the variety of the menu and that some of our trees and shrubs are UNSUNG HEROES in this unlicensed food service industry. 

   How about the black walnut, numerous on campus—eagerly sought by tree squirrels and certain other larger rodents; the various oak trees—acorns eaten by squirrels, deer, and other mammals; Osage orange (hedge apple)—eaten by squirrels and rabbits; wild gooseberry—eaten by many species; serviceberry (shadblow) (found near Bramlage)—red berries eaten by many bird species; eastern red cedar—berries especially liked by cedar waxwings; red mulberry—berries eaten by squirrels and over 50 species of birds; common hackberry tree—berry-like fruit eaten by many songbirds; coral berry (many along Donner Trail)—shrub with red berries that are good winter food for some small mammals and many bird species; smooth sumac—eaten by many birds, and by skunks; or the many grasses and forbs—grazed by deer, rabbits, and certain small rodents.

   And now, some vignettes to further suggest the variety both in the wild menu and in the ways it is used.  How about warblers and other small birds hopping over leaf surfaces in search of various insects; parent birds diving into the grass to catch insects for hatchlings back in the nest; robins waiting to sense soil vibrations made by a moving earthworm; squirrels, in late winter and spring, eating tree buds or the soft tissues just under the tree bark; packrats chewing away the wood of a fungus-killed limb to get at the fungal filaments within the wood; hawks and owls catching small mammals, maybe even a rabbit, and some other bird species; bigger fish in our pond catching smaller fish, usually of a different species; the great blue heron standing in our pond waiting for a small fish to swim within striking distance of its sharp beak; small birds and mammals searching out the small seeds of grasses and forbs; the short-tailed shrew stalking and killing wild mice with it paralyzing saliva injected with the shrew’s bite; or the omnivorous opossum (as described by one field guide to mammals) that will eat a wide range of plant and animal foods, and often forages along streams for frogs, crayfish, or whatever, that will raid henhouses, eat human garbage and carrion—"almost anything remotely edible.”  It seems that there’s always someone coming to dinner around Meadowlark Hills!