All birders have their very own “Magic Tree” A tree that, no matter what, always seems to miraculously ensure multiple bird species anytime you guide a pair of binoculars in its direction. There could be many kinds of magic trees but most of the time the species of magic tree is the mighty oak.
In actuality, there is nothing mystical about the oak and the many bird species that are attracted to it. In fact, oaks are perhaps the most important wildlife tree we have in our forest.
Of course most of us are familiar with the acorns (Tree nuts) that the oaks produce. Many bird species such as Blue-jays, woodpeckers, Turkey, nuthatches and even ducks depend on these little nutrient packed morsels to survive. Many mammal species as well literally live and die depending on the production of the acorn crop in any given year with the White oaks being the first acorn of choice basically because they taste better than the Red Oaks due to the lower amount of tannins. But what you may not know is that no other trees in our forests produce as many insects that our birds depend upon for their survival as the oaks trees.
Oaks support at an amazing 517 species of Lepidoptera (moth and butterfly caterpillars). They are the host plants for butterflies like Hairstreaks and moths like the Cecropia, which is why they become a “magic tree” especially in spring and summer. In turn those juicy little protein and fat-filled fast food caterpillars will attract a vast number of neo-tropical migrants like our warblers, vireos, and every other bird including chickadees and cardinals that feed insects to themselves and their nestlings.
In the Meadowlands no other location tops Losen Slote Creek Park in Little Ferry as far as the number of oak species that grow there, which is one of the main reasons it is such an amazing location for birding. Five species of Quercus grace the forest floor of this small but critically important lowland forest habitat. Swamp Oak, Scarlet Oak, Pin Oak, Red Oak and White Oak can also be found in this unique haven for migratory birds. The Bergen County Audubon Society is leading a free walk at Losen Slote this coming Tuesday, Nov. 17, from 10 am to noon.
In addition to food sources, oaks are used for nesting and cover for birds such as Owls, woodpeckers and many other cavity as well as open cup nesters. Since oaks hold onto their leaves well into fall and early winter they provide good cover when most other plants are bare.
It is important not only to protect our oak trees in the Meadowlands but to preserve them in our backyards and local parks, and plant more wherever we can in our community. Our birds, mammals, butterflies and moths are depending on them.