By Joel D. Glover
Have you ever been in the woods and noticed a dead tree?
A dead tree is a sad thing, or is it?
Take a closer look.
Wildlife biologists regularly visit with landowners to give them management advice. Often, a landowner points to a dead tree says they just haven’t gotten around to cutting it down.
They often step back when the biologist wonders why they want to cut down the tree.
Cutting it is a good idea if the tree is in an area frequented by people or livestock, or if it is threatening a power line or structure. However, a dead tree, also called a “snag,” in the forest is natural and beneficial.
In forested habitats, cavity-nesting birds may account for 30 to 45 percent of the total bird population. These species are largely dependent on snags for nesting, roosting, foraging and other functions.
Snags are often a rich source of food. Wildlife will forage on the external surface of the bark, the inner cambium layer and the heartwood of the tree.
While primary excavators are species that actually carve nesting and foraging cavities in snags, the cavities they create can have a long life span with many various users.
Secondary cavity users inhabit either natural cavities or cavities abandoned by other species.
Chickadees, bluebirds, wood ducks, titmice, great crested flycatchers, nuthatches, barred owls, screech owls and kestrels often use cavities created by woodpeckers.
In addition, bats, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, raccoons, frogs, snakes, honeybees, wasps and spiders also use the cavities. An absence of suitable snags can be a major limiting factor for some cavity-dependent wildlife populations.
Some landowners actually kill trees in areas lacking natural snags.
When creating a snag, remember that the larger the tree, the more use it will normally receive. It’s always best to keep safety in mind and avoiding deadening a tree that might fall into an area regularly frequented by people or livestock.
Landowners often select trees to turn into snags by location and choose both hard and soft woods.
There is something very natural about planting trees and watching them grow, so it is often the case that killing a tree needs to be a well-thought out approach to provide nesting and feeding opportunities for birds.
The next time you see a dead tree in the forest, stop and pay attention to how much wildlife is using it. You might just be surprised.
— Story contributed by Joel D. Glover, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
— Photo Courtesy Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources