Attracting Wildlife: Dead Trees

Dead trees provide a vital habitat for more than a thousand species of wildlife. They count as cover and places to raise young in the requirements for backyard habitat designation. There are two different definitions for dead trees. There are snags, which is name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally, and there are logs, which are snags (or part of a snag) that falls on the ground, it becomes a log—also very useful for wildlife habitat.

By some estimates, the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem. Wildlife species use nearly every part of a dead tree in every stage of its decay for things such as:

A Place to Live: Many animals, including birds, bats, squirrels and raccoons make nests in hollow cavities and crevices in a standing deadwood.

A Food Source: By attracting insects, mosses, lichens and fungi, deadwood becomes a gourmet restaurant for wildlife looking for a snack.

A Hiding Place: The nooks and crannies of a snag or log are put to good use by squirrels and other wildlife looking to store food.

A Soil Refresher: Mosses, lichens and fungi all grow on snags and aid in the return of vital nutrients to the soil. Decaying logs on the forest floor also act as "nurse logs" for new seedlings.

You can create a refuge for hundreds of woodland creatures by keeping snags in your yard (or constructing artificial snags if natural ones are not present). Despite the importance of snags to wildlife, many modern forestry practices encourage the removal of deadwood from the forest floor in an attempt to control pests and fungi, as well as for aesthetic reasons. In dry climates the removal of snags and other forest floor debris can cause and spread wildfires. Please consult your local forestry services to determine the risk level in your area.

When should I remove a snag? Never allow dead wood to rest against your home. Also any trees that may fall on your home (or a neighbor's home) should be removed. In both these cases, however, consider moving the wood to another safer area of your yard. As long as the snags are a reasonable distance from your home, termites and other pests won't find their way into your home.

If there are no natural snags in your yard, you can create artificial ones by trimming branches on live trees of varying sizes and types. Hardwood trees tend to make better nesting habitats while softer wood is better for food foraging. If you do not wish to create snags from living trees, the use of nesting boxes can be a good alternative. Three snags per acre is a good estimate for most areas, but you should check with your local wildlife management authority to get specific recommendations for your region.

(Image:Dr. Roy Winkelman)

Related: Backyard DIY: Squirrel Feeder

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07.17.13  12:00PM    KAREN B

Categories: backyard habitat,gardening

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