Leave Standing Dead Trees (When Safe)

Pileated woodpeckers build their nesting cavities in standing dead trees. Many other types of wildlife will use the cavities after the pileated woodpeckers abandon it. Photo credit: Chris Waits, CC BY 2.0 

Standing dead trees, also known as snags, are extremely valuable to wildlife and even some pollinators. Just a few examples of how snags are used by wildlife and pollinators include:

  1. Beetle larvae and other wood boring insects create tunnels in the dead tree. Many of these insects then become food for other wildlife such as woodpeckers, songbirds, bats, etc.
  2.  Approximately 30% of North America’ native bee species nest in dead trees. Some, like carpenter bees, excavate their own nesting tunnels, while most make use of abandoned beetle tunnels.
  3. The loose bark on many dead trees provides hiding and/or resting spots for many species of butterflies and moths, bats, songbirds, lizards, etc.
  4. Woodpeckers and a few other bird species will excavate nesting cavities in the dead trees where they will raise their young.
  5. Screech owls, squirrels, raccoons, wood ducks, cavity nesting songbirds (like bluebirds), and many other wildlife species will make their home in the abandoned cavities created by woodpeckers or other cavity excavating birds.
  6. Feral honey bee colonies may move into a hollow dead tree.
  7. Hawks and other raptors will perch on the branches of the dead tree when they are hunting.

Obviously, standing dead trees can be a safety hazard or potentially cause property damage. No matter how much we love wildlife and pollinators, most of us wouldn’t want to leave a standing dead tree right next to our homes or the kids’ swing set. That’s perfectly understandable, and dead trees in those types of locations need to be removed because of the risks they pose. However, if you have a standing dead tree in an area of your property that doesn’t get a lot of traffic and where there isn’t a risk of it falling onto any structures or powerlines, then leaving it alone can benefit wildlife for many years to come.

Standing dead trees are valuable additions to the natural ecosystem and can attract many different types of pollinators and wildlife. Photo credit: Kim Unertl, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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