Wanted: Dead or Alive- Wildlife Trees

Snag wildlife treeBy Charlotte Adelman

Compared with a living tree, more species of life benefit directly from the habitat and nourishment offered by trees in the afterlife. While a tree’s death causes wildlife dependent on its pollen, fruits or nuts to go elsewhere, the death enables crowds of other woodland life to move in and vastly increase the diversity of species it supports. The moment a tree dies, creatures ranging from birds to bacteria move in to dissolve, chew and disassemble the cellulose and lignin structure into food or habitat. A habitat has four essential components that make it suitable for a particular population of animals: food, water, shelter, and space. A wildlife tree provides three of the four of those essentials making it an important part of your backyard habitat to increase biodiversity.

Some 85 species of birds in North America nest in the dying and dead trees that we call snags or wildlife trees. Dead and dying trees are in limited supply, making them exclusive stopover sites for exhausted migrating birds, and for the bluebirds, American kestrels, wrens, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees. Cavities located over or near water are used by tree swallows, prothonotary warblers, wood ducks, goldeneyes, mergansers and buffleheads. Some species, like chickadees select a cavity with the smallest opening they can squeeze through. This prevents nest predators (blue jays, raccoons) and nest parasites (brown-headed cowbirds) from entering. Great crested flycatchers often hang a snake skin in the cavity entrance, to scare off intruders. Primary cavity users excavate cavities in the decaying wood, while secondary cavity users wait for a woodpecker to do the work before occupying and enlarging the cavity.

northern flicker escavates her nest cavityA dead tree also offers a place to build nests and a perch for hunting and observation (hawks, owls), safety from predators, and protection from the elements. Seeds, nuts and other food items stored in a cavity can determine which individuals make it through a particularly harsh winter, notes The Cavity Conservation Initiative. [i] The native bee larva and Lepidoptera (butterfly/moth) eggs that overwinter in tree bark also serve as food for birds and their spring nestlings. Mammals also use cavities in dead trees. Bats use natural and abandoned woodpecker cavities. Small mammals den in hollow trees. Flying squirrels prefer downy woodpecker cavities, which they line with shredded bark, or lichens, moss, feathers or leaves. Black bears sleep in the vast hollow trunks of huge sycamore trees that once sheltered entire pioneer families.   

The wildlife associated with snags play an important role in the dispersal of invertebrates. Peeling bark provides habitat for insects that wild birds consume. Protein-packed mushrooms -the fruiting bodies of fungi—attract more insects and hungry wildlife to the side of dead trees. When downed, hollow logs and dead trees are corridors used by predators as silent passageways through the noisy leaf litter. Below ground, a dead tree’s nutritional offerings eventually enters the soil, where they are further broken down and transported to different soil layers by the various decomposers.

Cavity conservation initiative
Decomposers including earthworms, firefly larva, ant colonies, snails, and crickets help return nutrients from the decaying debris to the soil, ultimately strengthening the forest’s ability to support life. Species that aerate, dig and fragment wood contribute to improved soil structure and quality. Decomposing wood, especially when accompanied by dead leaf litter, is a nutritionally rich and superior nursery for many seeds, such as shade-seeking wildflowers. Wood decomposers include bacteria, nematodes as well as types of fungi, called mycorrhiza. In return for delivering minerals (phosphorus, inorganic nitrogen) to the plant via its rootlets, the fungi receive moisture and carbohydrates from the plant, and sometimes a bonus in the form of special resistance to certain diseases.

A piece by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) from the UK urges “Bring your garden to life with dead wood”. Eventually, the structure of the dead tree dissolves and it falls over, becoming a “nurse log” because it provides a habitat for many organisms. Nurse logs are often hollow, and used for a variety of purposes by wildlife. When creating snags from dying trees, it is important that homeowners hire an expert tree service to remove branches and tops of large trees. Homeowners must make sure that whoever does the work is licensed, bonded, and insured, and understands your intention to make a wildlife tree. Contact local arborists for certified specialists who can competently create and maintain wildlife trees.

Cavity Conservation sign

To clearly communicate about wildlife trees between you and your neighbors, hang up these handy wildlife tree signs.These handy wildlife tree signs provide an opportunity to educate friends, neighbors, and the public about why a dead tree has been retained.

These aluminum signs are about the size of a sheet of paper and cost $10 (shipping included). For the signs, visit The Cavity Conservation Initiative’s Nature Store at:  http://cavityconservation.com/nature-store-2/

 

By Charlotte Adelman

Charlotte is the co-author of The Midwestern Native Garden, Midwestern Native Shrubs & Trees, and Prairie Directory of North America. Co-authored with Bernard L. Schwartz,  The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants was the winner of the 2012 Helen Hull Award from the National Garden Clubs. In 2014, Adelman was awarded an Audubon Chicago Region Habitat Project Conservation Leadership Award. Read more about her work in this feature article in the Chicago Tribune.

 

Additional Resources & Sources:

 Nancy Lawson article: http://www.humanegardener.com/life-after-death/

 Bernd Heinrich, Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death (Paperback)

[i] Value of Dead Trees for Birds The Cavity Conservation Initiative

https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/snags/

https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/OI/PublishingImages/SnagOrDeadTree4.jpg

A Bird’s Eye View Inside Some Nests

Although our local weather may not be as spring-like as we’d like, birds are responding to their nesting timelines all over the country.  Below are links to several special opportunities to observe the nesting behavior of a bird species including hawks, osprey, peregrines, eagles and hummingbirds.  Several links have been provided for eagle cams; each of them offers a view of different stages in the nesting. These links include live cams as well as recordings (both from this season and from previous years).  The pages usually include some information about the project and the individual birds’ histories. Because of the file sizes and depending on your internet speed, there may be delay times as the live-streams load.

If you have information on other sites, please share with Carol Rice at goforsix@aol.com.

Red Tail hawk’s nest by All About Birds Article and live video 

Recorded videos of hummingbirds building their nest and their babies 

Peregrine Cam in Baltimore, MD

Osprey Cam in Charlotte and Lake Norman (both in North Carolina)

Eagle Cams in Washington, D.C,Decorah, Iowa, and Minnesota

Kestrel Cam in Utah

Peregrine nest in Evanston, IL 

Illinois Native Plant Society Reinstates Grants

Some of the key details of the grant program are detailed here:

Program Explanation

The Illinois Native Plant Society Research Fund was developed to promote the conservation of Illinois native plants and communities through scientific research.

Availability of Funding

$4500 is available for grants ranging from $500-$1500.
Please open the link to read full details of the grant program

2018 Research Grants

Participate

Chicago Living Corridors promotes the idea that private landowners can be instruments of change by restoring natural habitat corridors between protected conservation areas in order to:

  • improve biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • diminish the effects of climate change

bumblebees-on-common-milkweed

One good way to participate in this effort is to join a local organization.  See below for more information.  Additional ways to participate include:
Volunteer with Chicago Living Corridors
Become a Citizen Scientist

Join a CLC Partner Organization

Many private landowners have created native habitat on their property.  See here for an interactive map of some of those who have registered their native habitat.

The CLC partner organizations listed below promote the use of native plants and natural habitats on private landscapes. Become involved in the natural landscaping movement in your community. Join one of the organizations listed, or start your own organization, and tell CLC about it.


Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee (WPPC)
The Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee is a non-profit organization dedicated to:

  • Promoting the use of native plants in the landscape through preservation, propagation, and education
  • Advocating the conservation of open space, natural landscapes, wildlife habitat,
    scenic resources, and water in McHenry County and neighboring areas for the benefit of the general public
  • Engaging in and otherwise promoting the scientific study of and educating the public regarding local natural resources

Most of our members are in McHenry County.


The Conservation Foundation (TCF)
The Conservation Foundation is a non-profit land and river protection organization founded in 1972. The support of more than 3,500 members and 500 volunteers helps us carry out our mission to preserve and restore open space and natural lands, protect rivers and watersheds, and promote stewardship of our environment in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will Counties, Illinois.


West Cook Wild Ones (WCWO)
West Cook Wild Ones promotes the use of native plants and natural landscapes.


Citizens for Conservation (CFC)
Citizens for Conservation is a 45 year old volunteer organization in the Barrington area whose mission is “Saving Living Space for Living Things through protection, restoration, and stewardship of land, conservation of natural resources and education.

  • Our Habitat Corridors program promotes planting native plants and earth-friendly yard practices. Knowledgeable volunteers visit home properties in the northwest suburbs to provide recommendations.
  • Our annual native plant sale, held the first weekend of May, provides a huge selection of local ecotype forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees.

Our websites, Citizensforconservation.org and Habitatcorridors.org provide many resources for individuals.

Map of CLC Partner Organizations

clc_partner_org_map

You can explore all of the site locations for each of the CLC organizations here (Google map).

Tell Us About Your Organization

Is your organization not listed above, but is helping private landowners to support pollinator populations, conserve clean water, increase biodiversity and restore soil? We would like to hear about it. Please contact us at info@chicagolivingcorridors.org. The CLC support region includes the counties in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana listed below.

clc-chicago-region-map-26-counties

IL WI
Boone Kenosha
Cook Racine
DeKalb Walworth
DuPage Waukesha
Grundy
Iroquois IN
Kane Jasper
Kankakee Lake
Kendall LaPorte
Lake Marshall
LaSalle Newton
Livingston Porter
McHenry St. Joseph
Will Starke

 

Home

Expanding habitat, engaging landowners, connecting preserves

The Chicago Living Corridor Alliance provcalca-logoides private landowners with inspiration and resources to help them support pollinator populations, conserve clean water, increase biodiversity and restore soil. Inspired by Doug Tallamy’s vision of a Backyard National Park, we believe private landowners have an important role to play in reversing the negative impact of ecosystem loss and fragmentation, land and water pollution, and climate change.

 

 

For a map of private landowners committed to this mission, go to the CLC Map page. 

To receive periodic updates from Chicago Living Corridors, please sign up for our CLC Newsletter

Find resources for purchasing native plants on our Directory of Native Plant Nurseries & Landscapers, & our list of Native Plant Sales!

Connect with us on Social Media:      

Sitemap