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Can Dead Trees be Good for Wildlife?

Trees are Useful Dead and Alive

Dead trees or dead wood is important for many different species of wildlife. In fact, for some forest animals, dead trees are more valuable to their survival than live trees. Many people know to plant trees that provide food or plants that provide nectar or berries.  Often though, dead plants and wood is overlooked as a means to provide for wildlife.  Most homeowners remove dead trees, which is  a good thing if there is potential for the tree to damage property.  However, if we left some dead trees (snags) that posed no threat to humans and their structures, then it would benefit wildlife.


Dead trees that are still standing are called snags.  Snags provide cover and nesting areas for over 40 bird species and to a variety of mammals.  Snags are home to woodpeckers, kestrels, owls, nuthatches and bluebirds.  Many mammals use tree cavities in snags, including bats, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and bears.

Different kinds of trees develop cavities at different ages.  Hardwood, deciduous trees  such as oaks or maples form cavities while the trees are alive. However, cavities are formed after the tree is dead is softwood trees like pines and cypress.  For this reason, natural deciduous forests tend to have many more cavities than conifer stands.

Snags are also useful since they provide a place for Spanish moss to hang on.  Spanish moss provides cover for bats and other animals during the day.  Many songbirds use the moss for nesting material.  Without trees to hang in , Spanish moss would be a resource for wildlife.


Few Animals Can Create Cavities in Snags

Only a small number of the wildlife species that use cavities can create them. Primary cavity excavators such as woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, and brown-headed nuthatches provide homes for other wildlife. . Owls, bats, many songbirds, and many small mammals rely on primary cavity nesters to provide nesting areas for them.

Snags Provide Bountiful Buffets and Perches

As the tree dies, the wood becomes infested with insects and fungi.  Snags and dead wood create a buffet for woodpeckers, lizards and other animals that eat insects.   Branches free of leaves serve as perches for birds of prey to watch for movements of prey below. Crevices formed between the trunk of a dead tree and the peeling bark provide protection from the sun for bats and amphibians.

All Animals Need Food, Water, Cover and Space

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard, it is important to provide food, water, cover and space. Some animals are very specific in what they need.  Some animals even prefer certain size holes in the snags they inhabit. When trying to attract songbirds, large, dense shrubs are needed so they can escape predation.  Lizards and amphibians need rocks and crevices to survive.  Follow this link for more helpful tips


One Comment on “Can Dead Trees be Good for Wildlife?

  1. A dead tree can stand for decades, providing critical shelter and food to myriad species. If a dead or dying tree isn t threatening your residence, picnic pavilion or roadway, the Game Commission recommends leaving it to nature and the benefit of wildlife. It won t be long before you ll see its worthiness to wildlife and begin to appreciate the additional character it affords your backyard or woodlot. If you appreciate wildlife, you should appreciate dead trees.

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