Sunday, May 21, 2017

Snag Down

The snag in 2016
Snags are dead trees that are still standing. I had a dead pine tree next to the driveway for 6 years. Over the years it provided food for several birds in the form of bugs that lived under the bark. I have photographed brown-headed nuthatches and pileated woodpeckers using this tree.  When it fell down this winter, I was sad to think its usefulness was done.

Brown-headed nuthatch in 2014

I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that it has one more service to render. It broke about 2 feet above the ground. The stump had several carved areas courtesy of the pileated woodpeckers. I heard the soft calls of the brown-headed nuthatch and watched as one checked out the stump. It returned day after day, and I decided that it was actively working the area, perhaps searching for bugs.

One day there were two of them and it finally occurred to me that they were enlarging the hole to make a nest! Now the pair of birds was working in earnest. It was adorable to watch them spit out mouthfuls of wood chips as they worked. As each day progressed, they went further into the hole until there was no sign of them; I could only hear the tapping inside. Sometimes the mouthfuls were big and the chips went in all directions. See my video here.

In between hollowing out their nest hole, I could see them foraging for bugs in the needles of living pine trees nearby. I also put out a few dried mealworms for them to snack on. It’s always amazing to see how hard working birds are when it comes to the business of making a family.

Nuthatch works on the second tree
Later they abandoned that nest and moved several feet over to a taller (and skinnier) snag. Once again the sounds of their gentle tapping and their squeaky conversations filled the air.

We look forward to hosting a new family of baby nuthatches. Research shows that brown-headed nuthatches have one clutch per year and that the number of eggs could be 4-7. Brown-headed nuthatches are not rare but they are not common either. They rely on southeastern pine forests so loss of habitat affects their population. 

Male pileated woodpecker excavating for grubs

Leave those trees when you can, but even if you have to drop them for safety reasons, on the ground they continue to feed other things. A tree that has been on the ground for several years was "grub city" for a pileated woodpecker pair this spring.

I don't often cheer for dead trees, but you can see that there's reason to celebrate them too.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the video of the nuthatch (or as my friend calls them, the 'upside-down birds'). I've heard forestry folks like leaving trees down (even if they have to cut them up and move them from a trail) because the nutrients in it go back into the soil as it rots.