Acorns and game birds – a mystery solved

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Outdoors-Ed Coleman

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“You’ll never guess in a hundred years what I found in the crops of those ducks,” said a friend when we were on the telephone, planning the next day’s hunt. “It’s unusual.”

The ducks were mallards and blacks bagged that afternoon on the Minas Basin mudflats. I figured the ducks likely were feeding on nearby dykeland fields, so my first guess was soybeans. 

“Wrong,” said my friend.

I think I surprised my friend with my next guess since I hit it right on.  “Acorns,” I said.

I guessed acorns because of the mallards. Locally, people were feeding large flocks of mallards, in back yards in places only a few kilometres from salt water, and there had to be oak trees around their lawns.  Mallard feed heavily on acorns and in some of the hunting hotspots across their range, flooded oak stands are prime areas. Acorns, in other words, are a preferred mallard food wherever the nut is available, so my guess was logical.

But logical or not, there were no acorns in the mallard crops. To my surprise, the black ducks had been feeding on acorns, so we had a mystery on our hands. Unlike the half-tame mallards, black ducks usually aren’t backyard feeders; so where were those Minas Basin black ducks finding acorns to feed on?

 After talking it over, we figured we had an answer. Lately, the tides in Minas Basin were higher than average. In one area where we hunt, where the friend bagged the ducks eating acorns, there are rows of oak trees strung out along the tide’s edge. When they run high, tidal waters sweep over places where the acorns fall. On occasion, we had spotted duck up on the grassy areas around the oak trees.

So, mystery solved. Except it wasn’t much of a mystery at all. Like mallards, black ducks also feed on acorns. The difference is that for the most part, black ducks have to get their acorns in the wilds. There are exceptions, but usually you won’t find black ducks swarming the lawns and backyards where people feed mallards.

In some areas, acorns are also a food favoured by pheasants.  I was astonished the first time I found acorns in a pheasant’s crop. These were monster-size acorns, so large I didn’t think pheasants could eat them.  

Geographic location: Minas Basin

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