No, I’m not talking about the pulls you get in sweaters or problems that crop up in your plans….no no, this is a snag of a different type…… A good kind of snag is a dead tree that’s been left standing. I’m not sure where that term came from, but I first learned about snags when I took the National Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Steward class and picked up a flyer that simply said “There’s Life in Dead Trees.”
So what’s so great about a dead tree? Well nearly every aspect of that tree, as it goes through the different stages of decay, is used by someone for something. They’re a critical part of a healthy ecosystem. Here are just a few ways that wildlife use dead trees:
Hollow cavities serve as homes for flying squirrels, raccoons, wood ducks and even grey tree frogs. And let’s not forget about Chimney Swifts – before we started “cleaning up” our neighborhoods and habitat, Chimney Swifts used huge old hollowed out trees for their roosts. They only shifted to Chimneys when their natural tree homes ran out.
Woodpeckers are another big user of dead trees. They make holes more easily in them and create nesting sites that, after they’re done with them, are used by secondary cavity nesters like Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice and Screech Owls.
Insects working to decompose the wood provide food for woodpeckers, brown creepers and other birds that forage for insects in bark.
Bats, like the Silver-haired bat, roost under loose bark to rest through the night.
Dead trees that have fallen to the ground are called “nurse logs” which help young seedling trees and other plants take hold as they start to grow.
According to a paper written by the National Wildlife Federation, “the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem.” So, we should let our dead trees stand.
I love the dead trees in our yard – they are an absolute magnet for wildlife, great and small. And it’s so much fun to keep an eye on what happens with them through the years. We have an old Sassafras tree in our backyard that died a few years ago. First, I saw tunneling around part of the base. Now I’m seeing all sorts of woodpecker holes. As cavities are made, I look forward to seeing more and more animals use them for nesting and refuge.