Sunday, March 23, 2014

Snagging Birds

Birds are attracted to a variety of habitats: some like open areas (bluebirds, sparrows, robins), others like thick shrubs (brown thrashers, cardinals) and some like water. And some birds like dead trees (which are known as snags). Certainly we all know that woodpeckers like dead trees, but I was surprised to discover recently how many other birds use them too.

Last year a medium-sized pine tree next to the driveway died. It was far enough away from the house that we could allow it to stand and decay in place. This winter it has been alive with all sorts of birds. 

The first birds that I noticed using it were brown-headed nuthatches. Their high-pitched squeals caught my attention as I walked to the mailbox. I had never seen this species at my house before so I was excited to see them. They spent a long time there, moving up and down the peeling bark while looking for insects.

Next came a red-bellied woodpecker. Oh, the nuthatches were furious! They fussed and fussed at him but he would not budge. They had to be content with visiting it when he was not there.

When the snow came in January and February, the tree was more popular than ever. Small birds like chickadees and wrens made quick visits to look for bugs. In between, the woodpecker and the nuthatches would stop by. This tree was clearly in their round of trees to visit once the sun came out and warmed up the bark (and the bugs beneath it).

One day I even discovered a pileated woodpecker working the lower portion of the tree. Unfortunately he saw me about the time I saw him and he took off quickly to find a more private meal.

Consider yourself lucky if you find a dead tree nearby (and you can leave it there safely). Then get out your binoculars and start watching it. You just might find yourself snagging some pretty interesting birds! By the way, this goes for dead trees on the ground too.


  1. Ellen, The title of your post is wonderful~as is the info!

  2. The snags are my favorite trees in the garden~!

  3. Better for the birds to drill into an old tree, than into my house! (WHich some do anyway!)

  4. Excellent post. Hopefully it will make people more aware of the importance of standing dead trees. We have several snags on our property, and when a large, living tree had to be taken down (interfering with the house), I left about 15-20 ft. of the trunk standing (just out of reach of the house should the snag ever fall). I'm hoping to get at least as good of a show as you had as the snag ages.

    Congratulations on the brown-headed nuthatches! I've only seen them pictured in my Peterson's guide.

    As for the piliated woodpecker, they are rather shy in my experience (just this past fall was my first close encounter with one--and I did manage to get some hopefully yours will return. Better luck next time.)