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.
Posted by R.Powers at 7:38 AM