Snags: Dead trees that are full of life

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  • Photo by DON BARTLING Standing dead trees, or “snags,” are actually full of life. Insects eat the dead wood, and attract birds. Fungus invades the dead wood, making it easier for woodpeckers to hollow out nesting cavities.

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    Photo by DON BARTLING Tree tops and branches snap off and wood rots out, making more cavities. Over time, the tree becomes an “apartment building” for animals.

  • Photo by DON BARTLING Standing dead trees, or “snags,” are actually full of life. Insects eat the dead wood, and attract birds. Fungus invades the dead wood, making it easier for woodpeckers to hollow out nesting cavities.

  • 1

    Photo by DON BARTLING Tree tops and branches snap off and wood rots out, making more cavities. Over time, the tree becomes an “apartment building” for animals.

As you travel around Boundary County you will notice dead standing trees in wooded areas and by the river, creeks and ponds. It is hard to believe, but trees can actually provide more habitats for wildlife dead than when they are alive.

Standing dead and dying trees, called “snags” or “wildlife trees,” are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings, occurring as a result of disease, lightning, fire, animal damage, too much shade, drought, root competition, as well as old age. Over time, the tree becomes a shelter and a source of food.

Birds, small mammals, and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas, foraging, roosting, and perching. Live trees with snag-like features — such as hollow trunks, excavated cavities, and dead branches — can provide similar wildlife value. Snags occurring along streams and shorelines eventually may fall into the water, adding important woody debris to aquatic habitat. Dead branches are often used as perches; snags that lack limbs are often more decayed and, may have more and larger cavities for shelter and nesting. Snags enhance local natural areas by attracting wildlife species that may not otherwise be found there.

As a snag ages it starts to fall apart. The bark loosens and falls off. The wood softens. The tree top may break off. Insects eat the dead wood, and attract birds. Fungus invades the dead wood, making it easier for woodpeckers to hollow out nesting cavities. Eventually, snags fall to the ground and finish rotting.

Each stage of the snag’s decay process is used by different animals. Bats will look for snags with loose bark. They might roost under the bark at night to digest insects. Pileated woodpeckers look for snags that are partially rotten. They like soft wood to peck into. Goshawks and some owls nest where the top of the tree is broken off. A really rotten snag with the top broken off is where chickadees like to nest.

Fallen snags shelter animals. Mice, squirrels, coyotes, and foxes might make dens in, or next to fallen trees. Deer can hide from predators behind fallen snags.

Standing dead trees, or “snags,” are actually full of life. So next time you are traveling around Boundary County watch for dead trees and try to determine what wildlife it may be sheltering.

Enjoy Boundary County and all its habitats for wildlife!

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