Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dead Trees and Big Birds


The Pure Florida forest is a mix of young and old trees, mostly oaks. Of these oaks, the Live Oak has a long life, but the more common Laurel and Turkey oaks are old at 70 years and often riddled with heart rot long before that. That makes them poor furniture wood candidates, but excellent wildlife trees.

When you toss in the fact that Florida is the lightning capital of the world, (YET ANOTHER REASON TO RETIRE TO ANOTHER STATE GOLFERS! ARIZONA SOUNDS NICE), you get alot of dead trees scattered through our forest. These dead and dying trees are vital to a forest ecosystem since they support huge numbers of insects and offer cavities for cavity nesters. I once had a class dissect rotten log sections that I brought in from my property. It was a while ago, (preFCATmania), but I still remember how surprised they were at the number and variety of creepy crawlies they found in the "dead" tree. Lucky for me, no one got bit by a black widow ... parents hate that.


For the Pileated Woodpecker above, dead wood is essential. If you've never met a Pileated in person, just picture a wood pecker as big as a banty rooster with a call straight out of a Tarzan movie. To the Pileated, every dead branch is a potential source of grubs, beetles, and other insects and the right dead or dying tree might be chosen as a nest tree.

The tree in the photo above is just a restaurant tree in my opinion. I haven't seen the telltale boxy opening on it that says "Pileated Home Sweet Home". This oak stands in my front "yard" and was hit by lightning a few years ago. It's refused to actually die, but is riddled with fungi and periodically drops huge branches ...widow makers. We leave it because it's too far from the house to strike it should it fall, plus my wife has a decent life insurance policy on me ...


My buddy, the Barred Owl chick needs dead trees too. He's fledged now, but he started off as an egg in a tree cavity. He's bratty and whiney, not silent like his parents. I don't think he's crazy about having to find his own food. It's pretty obvious that he enjoyed the "take-out" food his parents used to deliver.He doesn't know it of course, but the small animals he's learning to hunt depend on the same dead trees for shelter and their food.

Yesterday evening, one of the owls swooped silently over my head to land a dozen paces in front of me. There was some brief hopping, flopping as it tightened it's grip on some small critter, before flying up into the branches of a dead oak.

Dead is in the eye of the beholder.

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swamp4me said...

So very true! A dead tree is one of the most alive things I can think of.

swamp4me said...

I also wanted to add that back in my teaching days I had to fight to save a dead tree out in a corner of the schoolyard. It was way out in a corner where the kids didn't go (unless I took them) and posed no danger what-so-ever to people or property. It took every bit of persuasive power I had to convince the powers in charge that it was a valuable teaching tool - not an unsightly mark on the landscape. I used that tree for several years in a variety of classes from Life Science to Physics -- it was a great little lab.

I rode by my old school not long ago. The dead tree, indeed the whole little natural area I had worked so hard to preserve, was gone. Now the schoolyard is a grass lawn with a few mature pines. No diversity, little interest - just as the powers in charge wanted it. I feel sad for the kids...

Floridacracker said...

The whole focus now is on uniformity and the quest for test scores. Very frustrating.

Where did I put that green and grey uniform?

doubleknot said...

Oh how I miss the trees - dead and living. I turned our desert of a back yard into a thriving living thing by keeping planting trees. There was no problem leaving dead trees up for the critters. Haven't seen a pilated since I left the country - thanks for the pic. I see dead trees beside the rode sometimes and am glad they left them up.

Laura said...

Unbelieveable. When I took the photos of Boca Ciega park last week, I took several photos of the dead trees for a "Wanted, dead or alive" nature post. LOL! This one was much better!

I have a question for you or your readers if you don't mind? A pileated woodpecker has been attacking our fireplace chimney on our house in G'ville, and he has really messed up the wood.
I don't know how to stop him...if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

We had left several dead trees for him to peck at when we moved out, but when the new tenants came in with teenaged boys, we were told it was a huge liablity and we could get sued if the tree fell on them.
Ended up having to take the trees out, much to my chagrin. I think that's when our chimney problems started.

They are nothing if not revengeful. (Just kidding).

In addition to the woodpecker, we also have to deal with squirrels chewing on the wood as well. I think we're going to have to wrap the whole chimney in some type of wire or fence material to keep them out...ugly as that might look!

roger said...

we all, well, many of us anyway, like to live in wood houses. just like the critters and bugs. the radio played an old song to me yesterday that seems apt:

"Well you know that it's a shame and a pity
You were raised up in the city
And you never learned nothing 'bout country ways,
Ah, 'bout country ways."

not so sweet martha lorraine, by joe mcdonald.

the "powers in charge" don't seem to like the full cycle of nature.

pablo said...

Up here in Missouri we call them dead trees "snags," but don't tell Tjilpi!

Laura - generally when woodpeckers work on a house, it's because they are after the bugs that are living in the siding. Pileated especially love ants, so you may have a hive of ants habitating in there. Perhaps an exterminator could spray your chimney.

Floridacracker said...

Keep planting!

Do your post! Your photos are getting spectacular.
Now, about that chimney ... you guys could move back.

Pablo has a point, I wonder if you can see any insect damage on that chimney?
The Pileated may just like the resonance of your chimney. They drum on hollow trees to communicate.

You could set a few shorty logs upright in the backyard. Short enough to be under the lawyer radar.
I've often thought that if I didn't have such an abundance of dead trees, I would make a woodpecker garden of shorty logs set about 3-4 feet into the ground. Something like that might distract the pileated if it's food and not sound that attracts him to your chimney.

"powers in charge"...heh, if only.

Snags here too.

Laura said...

Insects... ohh no. That's a very good point, thanks Pablo.

FC, We have "shorty logs" wayyy out in the back, full of wild blackberries and, possibly.. poison ivy. :) I've never called them shorty logs, however. great to have a new name for them!

In about 5 years, Britt graduates from school here, and God willing, we'll move back!

Floridacracker said...

Maybe Pablo would come down and climb up on your roof to inspect the chimney. He loves ladders.

If your girls go to UF, that would be perfect. I'm sure they're not allowed to go know where.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Can you find escargot in those trees? Save some for me, if so.

Floridacracker said...

I had escargot once tasted like snail!

Granny J said...

Did I read you right -- telling golfers to move to Arizona???? Fie on you, cracker! Sunshine we got, water for the grass we don't.
But they keep building 'em.
(And I can talk that way to you, seein' as how I did my school years in Jax!)

Out in these parts (the AZ mountains), our acorn woodpeckers love to tuck their nuts under the shingles at the edges of roofs. If you want to see what they do to trees, go here.

The tend to be choosy about roofs -- picking the pricier houses, I've noted!

Deb said...

FC- wonderful post. We leave the dead standing here, and they turn into trees of life.

By the way, I just happen to be hosting the next edition of "I And
The Bird", the carnival of bird blogging, and this post would fit in wonderfully. Do I have your permission to include it?

Floridacracker said...

Even as I typed it, I felt guilty knowing how unwise it is to build communities in the desert. I admit it was a moment of selfishness.

I should have sent them to Idaho ...

Forgive me Arizona.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks, I would be honored to be in the festival. Cool.

Ava said...

Having your students dissect rotten log sections is genious!!! I bet they were amazed at the life going on inside.

I've actually seen a Pileated Woodpecker on a bird watching expidition at Siloam Springs State Park here in Illinois. It was quite a sight and I was SO excited to have seen it.

Floridacracker said...

The log activity was fun and the rotten crumbs went home and on to the compost pile for my garden.

Pileateds are always an exciting find in my book.

misti said...

Hi, I'm a recent reader of yours and I really enjoy everything yout post regarding true Florida. I've been here about four years from Texas, first living in Melbourne two years and now I have been in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale another two. I certainly miss Central Florida, though South Florida away from the city and traffic and really bad drivers is quite excellent in terms of nature. I drive through the 'glades daily for work so I get to see lots of beautiful things. Thanks for capturing Florida in a way that not many have!

Floridacracker said...

Hey! Welcome to Pure Florida!
You are right of course, South Florida's wild areas are every bit as beautiful as up here. I worked in Big Cypress for awhile and loved my daily commute through the glades.
Thanks for commenting!