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  • Writer's pictureBruce Smith

Save a snag

March is finally here, the month when spring arrives (according to my calendar), and our first migratory nesting birds return from their southern vacations. Red-winged blackbirds and robins often arrive first in Montana, followed by mountain bluebirds, meadowlarks, and then a flood of others. What they have in common is the biological urge to find nesting sites, breed, and raise another cohort of young.

Suitable nesting habitat and sites are critical for this annual renewal. Playing a significant role are dead trees, especially for primary and secondary cavity nesters -- species that excavate nesting cavities and species that use the abandoned homes of primary cavity nesters or natural cavities that form in dead trees from decay, broken limbs, lightning strikes, and by other means. When I worked on the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, we documented 12 bird species nesting in cavities in dead or dying aspen trees alone. Snags of both deciduous and coniferous trees are so important for nesting, feeding, roosting, hunting, and other life processes of birds and other groups of animals that some agencies are "creating" snags for wildlife as this Oregon study describes.

Saving dead trees (rather than cutting them down, just because they have died) in residential areas, county, or wildland locations, does species who share the planet with us a huge favor. And that, of course, enriches our lives.


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