Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Woodman, Spare that Dead Tree!

Dead trees are very important to wildlife.

Dead and dying redcedars
in a secluded old cemetery.
The usual impulse when a tree dies is to cut it down and get rid of it. Sometimes, it is necessary to do so. The dead tree may threaten a valuable building. Subdivision agreements, city ordinances, etc. have to be respected. But many of us have the option of leaving a dead tree in place for wildlife use.

If you are worried about the dead limbs breaking off and causing damage, you can shorten them or even remove them and leave just the trunk of the tree standing. Don't cut the tree back more than you absolutely must -- the higher the better for snags (standing dead trees).

Figure 9 in the document, Managing Cavity Trees for Wildlife in the Northeast, depicts some bird uses of the snag at various heights.

A vine can be trained to grow up the trunk if you can't stand the look of the bare snag. In Kentucky, vines including wild grape, trumpet vine, and poison ivy will often spring up from bird-dropped seeds and cover the trunk within a few summers.

Hawks and other raptors use tall snags as perches, and in fact, will not live in an area without high perches. A few birds that nest in cavities are woodpeckers, sapsuckers, chickadees, tufted titmice, some warblers, owls, kestrels, swifts and eastern bluebirds.

Tree cavity
A large ground-level tree cavity
Dead trees provide food for insects who in turn become food for birds and small animals. Bats often roost under the loose bark of a dead tree. Wild animals from squirrels to bears will shelter inside cavities.

Here's a peek into a large tree cavity. This hole is at ground level, and the hollow area is big enough that I'd be able to sit in it with lots of room left overhead! Leaves have drifted in and accumulated on the floor. This tree cavity could shelter a small bear, if we had any in Christian County, Kentucky!

We do have bobcats here. They use tree cavities as dens, but they would probably want something higher in the air. Gray fox (a good climber with its hooked claws) sometimes nests in tree cavities off the ground. Raccoons and opossums are also frequent users of both dead and living hollow trees.

Raccoon in a tree cavity
Wikimedia image by BS Thurner Hof

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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