Monday, October 31, 2011

Dead Trees & Forest Birds

Dead trees used to be considered useless, a waste of timber. Conservationists now recognize them as vitally important for wildlife, in particular forest birds.

Take an autumn walk in Idaho's expansive forests and you'll see just how important these trees are. It's a great time of year to see various woodpeckers and other species foraging around old snags.

This weekend, as I climbed a ridge in the Boise National Forest, the forest was constantly abuzz with activity--much of it centered around dead trees. Hairy woodpeckers (above) were particularly common, alternately chattering to each other and loudly hammering holes in trees. Bark flew as they probed the tree for insects.

Pygmy nuthatches, chickadees and red-shafted flickers darted around the branches. The nuthatches appeared to be picking off insects stirred up by the hairy woodpeckers.

On other forest hikes, I've seen pileated woodpeckers, red-naped sapsuckers and Lewis woodpeckers around dead trees. If you stand quietly, you can often watch them hammering a hole in a tree from just a few feet away. The woodpeckers are among the most entertaining birds to observe. I particularly enjoyed spotting several white-headed woodpeckers, a beautiful species and a "life bird" for me. These western birds in particular need dead trees to survive. If they're removed from a forest, the white-headed woodpeckers disappear.

Well-managed private and public forests save dead snags as "bird trees." The photos on this blog show some well-used "bird trees" on private forest land in North Idaho.

Get out and enjoy your Idaho forests, and keep an eye out for the many interesting birds that live there. They're hard to miss at this time of year. --Matt Miller Photos: Hairy woodpecker by Mdf via a the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. White-headed woodpecker courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dead tree snags by Matt Miller.

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