Trees and Birds

 In Blog, Education, Trees

Birds and trees go togeth­er like peanut but­ter and jel­ly. It’s no secret that birds love trees, but there are a few species of birds that have a par­tic­u­lar love of trees. Read more below!

East­ern Screech Owl
The East­ern Screech Owl is one of the small­est owls in this region. Screech owls are 6 to 10 inch­es, with the female being the larg­er of the two. On aver­age, screech owls weigh just 6 ounces they have a wingspan of up to 24 inch­es. They come in two col­or morphs: red and gray. Their col­or morphs make them mas­ters of camouflage.

In the sum­mer, East­ern screech owls will roost among the dense foliage of trees and shrubs to hide from preda­tors and mob­bing birds. Dur­ing the win­ter when cov­er is less avail­able, they resort to roost­ing in tree cav­i­ties. Courtship and nest­ing nor­mal­ly begin in March. East­ern screech owls are cav­i­ty nesters but do not cre­ate a cav­i­ty them­selves. They rely on rot­ted out holes in trees, old wood­peck­er cav­i­ties, or those chewed out by squirrels. 

This region plays home to many dif­fer­ent species of wood­peck­ers. The pileat­ed wood­peck­er, red-bel­lied wood­peck­er, downy and hairy wood­peck­ers, and north­ern flick­er are just a few! Trees play an impor­tant role for wood­peck­ers. Some may think wood­peck­ers cause harm­ful dam­age to trees and wood but healthy trees can with­stand the minor dam­age and wood. 

The most com­mon rea­son wood­peck­ers use their beaks to cre­ate small holes in trees is that they are look­ing for food. Wood­peck­ers eat insect lar­vae that are found beneath the sur­face of tree bark. In forests, they help get rid of insect infes­ta­tions in trees. For exam­ple, wood­peck­ers have been known to remove emer­ald ash bor­er (EAB) lar­vae from infest­ed ash trees. Over­all, wood­peck­ers are high­ly ben­e­fi­cial for trees as a whole. 

In the spring, wood­peck­ers will drill into dead or dying trees to cre­ate nests. As wood­peck­ers leave their cav­i­ties once they are done nest­ing, they are vital­ly impor­tant in pro­vid­ing shel­ters for all types of cav­i­ty nest­ing ani­mals, like the east­ern screech owl above or squir­rels. Squir­rels use these cav­i­ties for win­ter shel­ter and to raise their pups. In turn, squir­rels are vital­ly impor­tant in spread­ing acorns and oth­er nuts which helps cre­ate new trees and a healthy forest!

Great Blue Herons
Anoth­er avian won­der that reminds us that dinosaurs did once exist are the great blue herons found in the region. The adults are large and tall with a long neck, gray­ish-blue over­all with a long orange/yellow bill. Even though you most like­ly see a great blue heron in the water, trees are vital­i­ty impor­tant for their nest­ing. Great blue herons nest colo­nial­ly in trees found near water, such as sycamore and cot­ton­woods. Their groups of nests, called rook­eries, can range from any­where between a few nests to hun­dreds of nests in one area and are made up of most­ly twigs and sticks. Great blue heron often choose their nest­ing sites that are more iso­lat­ed to avoid preda­tors such as hawks, owls, rac­coons, and humans.

Migra­to­ry songbirds
There are many song­birds that migrate through our region in spring, war­blers, some thrush­es, vire­os, and ori­oles are just a few and they rely on many dif­fer­ent types of trees in their jour­ney, but one group of trees that is extra impres­sive are oak trees! Oak trees pro­vide birds, espe­cial­ly those still en route to breed­ing habi­tats, with food-rich stopover sites. Acorn mast, catkins and tasty insects hid­ing under the oaks’ rough bark and in hol­low cav­i­ties offer abun­dant and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble food. Not to men­tion Oak trees host more than 530 species of cater­pil­lars, more than any oth­er tree! In addi­tion, they host many oth­er insect species such as bee­tles and arthro­pods. For these rea­sons, Oak trees are the favorite of insect glean­ing birds like War­blers and Tan­agers (among many, many more).

Oak trees are also con­sid­ered to be one of the strongest decid­u­ous trees for shel­ter, due to their large branch­es, broad leaves, and ten­den­cy to hold their leaves lat­er into autumn than many oth­er decid­u­ous trees. Oaks are also incred­i­bly durable (even when dead) as they have high resis­tance to dis­eases and insect exploita­tion. Due to these char­ac­ter­is­tics Oaks are also a very pop­u­lar nest­ing loca­tion for breed­ing birds (includ­ing cav­i­ty nesters).

Song­bird pho­to cour­tesy Stephen Bucklin

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