Thursday, March 17, 2016

Who Doesn't Love a Good Snag?

With all the activity around clean up this time of year, it is good to remember that dead trees have an important place in the garden as well. Snags, the name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally, are so important that according to the National Wildlife Federation they provide habitat for close to one-fifth of the animals in the eco-system 

Here in our yard, snags are home and food for pileated woodpeckers. The largest woodpecker in North America, it is striking with its huge red crest, looking almost prehistoric. Their  loud call is very distinctive and so are the holes they make. Looking for carpenter ants, their favorite food, they make long rectangular holes. Their deep excavations attract other birds looking for food as well. These holes later make habitat for other birds such swifts, owls, bats and pine martens.

During mating season, these birds can be seen doing their ritual courtship dance. This dance consists of one bird bowing, scraping, and stepping sideways in a circle around another bird.
Last year we watched four pileated woodpeckers perform this dance, flitting around the forest making their distinctive calls. Pairs mate for life and prefer old trees in recently cleared forests.

Credit: Joshlaymon

Hollow snags are very valuable in winter as they are used by many species such as squirrels, raccoons and owls to name a few. They provide food storage places for mice, squirrels, blue jays, and woodpeckers. They provide perches for hawks and mourning doves and food for many. Keep this in mind before you think to clean your woods of "unwanted" deadwood. Nothing could be more full of life than these sentinels.

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