The Autumn Blues
By Karen Menard
The oak woodlands have become charged with fall color and energy. Flaming bursts of oranges, red and yellows mixed with electric blue flashes are appearing in the Metroparks.
Not often thought of as a traditional fall color, “autumn blue” has been found in the Oak Openings woodland mix throughout history.
Wearing the sky on their back, migrating eastern bluebird flocks use the openings between the color-changing oaks as important stopover habitat to forage for insects and berries.
Mixed flocks of grackles and blackbirds stream in the autumn sky for miles with the sun shining upon their iridescent blue-green feathers. They, too, will use these oak woodlands for important stopover habitat, roosting in the trees and fueling up on invertebrates and seeds for the rest of their journey.
Blue jays can also be found in this blue mix, swiftly diving under the towering oaks. “Jay…jay!” can often be heard echoing among the trees. This blue species has an important job in the Oak Openings as the main disperser of oak trees.
Blue jays are acorn planting machines, responsible for selecting, caching and planting thousands of viable acorns each fall. They can carry up to five acorns in their bill, throat and upper esophagus away from the parent trees, successfully dispersing the oaks to new areas within the region!
As you walk the trails in the Oak Openings this fall, take notice of how the “blues” complement the other colors, as well as the ecosystem itself.
The jays and the oaks depend on one another, and the other species mentioned here depend on the oaks, as well as the insect and associated plant communities.
Ongoing conservation in the Oak Openings region through corridor links and habitat restoration efforts will sustain natural connections found throughout these special ecosystems.
Photos: Top, Blue Jay; Grackle
Did You Know?
After the last ice age, blue jays are thought to have advanced the spread of North American oak and beech trees.