Snags

Dead trees called “Snags” provide food and a home for almost one third of our wildlife. Since the hurricanes, many of our neighborhood slash pine trees have died, yet most pines in natural areas survived . Irrigation water raises the ph of the soil and prevents pines from absorbing micronutrients. Trees that were weakened by too much irrigation died when excessive rains, even a year later, rotted their roots. Never water a slash pine and keep lawn grass away from the trunk. Also, changes in grade and soil compaction will kill pines.

If your slash pines have died, leave them to provide many birds and other wildlife feeding and nest sites. As the tree rots, beetle grubs and other insects are found under the bark by woodpeckers. Over time, the woodpeckers create holes to nest in which are later used by other wildlife. These include screech owls, wood ducks, kestrels, flying squirrels and even raccoons and opossums. I have seen downy woodpeckers peeking out of the ends of dead pine branches where they were likely nesting. Kestrels, which are our smallest falcon, eat insects, lizards and mice. They use the hole made by the large pileated woodpecker. Both birds are in desperate need of nest sites.

As you kill the invasive trees on your property, it will cost less to leave a snag than to pay for tree removal and stump grinding. If the dead tree is close to your house, measure the distance and cut the tree short enough to miss the house if it falls. The trees on my property usually don’t fall but instead rot to a powder and leave only the hard pith. Australian pine makes a great snag when cut to around 20 feet. Shelf mushrooms grow from the trunk and the woodpeckers make a hole just under this little roof. Never let dead wood touch your house or termites will enter.

If your lot is large and you can leave the trees where they are, you will be rewarded with many unusual bird species. I personally like the unusual look of an old twisted snag and the excitement of seeing a hawk, owl, osprey or bald eagle perched on it as they wait for prey. You may even want to plant oaks or replacement pines around the snag so that they will hold it up if it tilts in a few years.

We have dozens of dead pines on our property which were killed by the hurricanes. One by one the branches fall and the trunk rots away. Pileated, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers have nested here and are a constant sight. If you live near a natural area, you may be surprised by the appearance of a Bald eagle or other predatory birds occasionally resting on a branch.