By Eleanor Foerste, UF/IFAS Osceola County Extension
The circle of life in nature is very complex. We play an important role in the cycle in both our native ecosystems and in home landscapes. One way we can help is by leaving dead trees as “standing snags” for cavity nesting birds.
Red bellied woodpeckers raise their young in old tree trunks. As termites, beetles and fungi inhabit the dead tree, many other birds perch on the skeleton looking for food or shelter. Smaller black and white downy woodpeckers also nest in snags. The much larger black and white pileated woodpecker with a pointed red head pounds the trunk with its bill looking for food under the decaying bark.
The hurricanes of 2004 devastated human and animal homes when trees came down. Strong hurricane winds destroyed trees which provided important nesting and resting habitat for birds. While some birds require live trees for nests, others only nest in cavities built in dead trees. Woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches are primary cavity excavators and dig out the wood to create a nest cavity so dead trees are especially important. Bluebirds, screech owls and wrens are secondary occupants and move in after the other birds have made the nest cavity. Some birds will adapt to artificial cavities known as bird houses, but the size of the cavity and the size opening are different for different types of birds.
Trees are important for shade near buildings to lower electric bills, but be sure to maintain adequate insurance in the event that trees damage structures. Proper pruning practices, tree species selection and tree placement can result in shade with minimal risk to homes and buildings.
When leaving dead or damaged trees in the yard for wildlife habitat, an arborist can remove the bulk of the tree and leave stubs of the main branches for perches for large hawks, kestrels, ospreys and owls. These birds look for high vantage points when they hunt for prey. Male cardinals and mocking birds may use them as lookout perches to sing for a mate or watch for predators so they can warn their family of danger.
Learn more about tree selection and care, cavity nesters, and landscaping for wildlife habitat by contacting the UF IFAS Extension Osceola County Master Gardeners at 321-697-3000 or search http://solutionsforyourlife.com Teachers and youth ages 5 to 18 may want to join 4-H and enroll in the 4-H Bluebird Youth Project.