my wildlife tree, or snag: a lively progress report

IF YOU BUILD IT, they will come–or at least if you don’t knock it down, they will. I promise. That’s the progress report on my wildlife tree, or snag, created at the end of 2014 when a large, multi-trunk old birch was starting to die back and fall apart.

One of my best moves ever was to let nature show me how to manage dying and dead trees in a smarter way than simply by removing them. You may recall that when the old tree was dropping big pieces of its crown, I confused the arborist by asking that he top it but leave most of the trunk standing, creating a snag or wildlife tree rather than a compulsively tidy erasure.

A snag is a place for wildlife to nest or den; a source of food for insects (who are in turn food for many other creatures); a perch for lookout, and more.

“By some estimates,” the National Wildlife Federation says, “the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem.”

I can attest that the local animals are loving the birch snag as much or more than they long loved the living version of that tree, as is evidenced by endless antics I get to witness up and down its length, and by the increasing woodpecker excavations in its trunk (top photo and the one just above). Learn more:


Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Debbie Grant says:

    My husband thought I was crazy when I suggested we leave the dying pine tree (topped) in our new garden. He came to appreciate the tree when the honeysuckle on it attracted more hummers than he’d ever seen, along with the woodpeckers looking for bugs and parents teaching their baby birds about life in the trees. We hung a feeder on it for more action and were not disappointed. The dead tree stood for about 10 years before it fell one day during a storm. We were broken-hearted. I didn’t know my dead tree concept had a name.

  2. Deb up the hill says:

    It took years of begging my better half to leave the dead trees but finally he is a believer too! Long live the woodpeckers and all the other critters who live for dead trees!

  3. Lorie says:

    I didn’t even know what a snag was, but. I did it because I loved the trunks of the birches so much that I still wanted to see them outside the window. What a treasure they have turned out to be…and being very close to the windows just great wildlife lessons.

  4. PB Sweeney says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. We did this with a 200 year oak and have marveled at the new life our old friend has helped bring forth.

  5. Linda Krahenbuhl says:

    We have a huge old elm tree that has gotten Dutch elm. Our eagles love to sit at the very top and over look our property. My husband says it has to come down this winter. So sad for our eagles.

  6. Rachel says:

    I didn’t realize the importance use of dead trees.I though the uses are just for logs and creating a furniture out of it.
    So you can actually make it into a snag for the wildlife…
    Thanks for this info.

  7. kathny says:

    We have two near a pond on our property. I’m trying to grow a wisteria vine on one of them and we’ve left the other one alone, but I can relate to the person whose “better half” was itching to remove it, because mine is also!

  8. Pam says:

    We have two snag trees near the small falls of our stream. A pair of Northern Flickers return each Spring to set up nesting. It is fascinating to watch them prepare their nursery. Taking turns they work non-stop to open their nesting hole. Usually the male will let out his hop-and-hollering on a nearby branch while his mate prepares the nest bed. Soon the activity will settle down as the eggs are kept warm until hatching.

    Please keep us posted on your snag tree. It will be fascinating how nature claims this spot as their home.

  9. Audrey Luth, Master Gardener and Member of Dogwood Garden of Princeton, NJ says:

    Mine fell down two days ago. The Emerald Ash Borer will I fear give me many snag trees. We do have many flickers and other woodpeckers that will be happy.

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Audrey, yes; these imported forest pests have us all terrified. Fingers crossed for the best outcome. I know the scientists are hard at work on it, like this.

  10. Peggy says:

    We have three newly “snagged” spruce that, after 40 or so years had been getting scraglier by the year. Now the woodpeckers (pilliated and downy) are regulars. We’re hoping the V crotch left on top will invite nesting, and the many perches left attached will come in handy.

  11. Excellent work, Margaret. I once removed a dead tree from my yard, only to wish months later I hadn’t done so. My mind was changed by seeing a dead pine across the street housing bird nests and woodpeckers. I won’t make the same mistake twice – thanks for teaching us to garden as nature does.

  12. Nell says:

    Your posts were the final-straw impetus for the ever-more-entertaining snag in this garden, an ash that succumbed to borers a few seasons ago. It was quickly festooned with Virginia creeper that turns fiery red in fall, and now we’re seeing considerable woodpecker action (though the pileated is so far sticking to the ancient dying sugar maple on the other side of the property). Thanks for all you do to encourage life in the garden.

  13. Jessica Dickson says:

    When I was creating my garden, I thought that a tree snag would be perfect as a vertical element. I told my husband and he said I was crazy. A few weeks later I found a 17 foot tall snag in the street a few blocks from my house. I don’t know how it got there but it was perfect. Very beautiful. So we put the snag on two office chairs, one at each end and towed it with the car as I walked behind making sure it didn’t swing around and hit anything. I’m sure my neighbors thought we were crazy. We planted that dead tree in my garden. We used concrete and put it 5 feet deep. I have pipevine growing around the base and up the tree. I couldn’t be happier. The wildlife love it and I love watching the wildlife.

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