Trees and Birds
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.
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