Male wood duck perches on the top of a hollow, broken tree

Life in a Snaggy Wood

Snaggy—that’s a technical term I just made up to describe our wooded backyard.

Our little forest has a lovely sprinkling of snags, the forestry term for standing dead and dying trees. I became a snag advocate (a snagvocate?) soon after moving into our home in the woods. In defense of the dead tree, I’ve convinced Bert that we should remove dead wood only as needed to keep our view of the lake below, and to protect the house from hazard in a storm. Otherwise, we leave the dead trees alone.

And oh, the rewards for benign neglect!

Snags are wildlife magnets. Their soft, decaying wood attracts insects and woodpeckers whose industry fills the trees with holes and hollows. The woodpeckers and other cavity creatures nest inside, bringing new life to our dead trees.

Cavity creatures we see each year include squirrels, wood ducks, five kinds of woodpecker, and starlings. Two years ago, our snag watching gave us a great view of a mama raccoon raising her kits.

One limbless, topless tree trunk has become a critter condominium. I can see twelve doorways to interior cavities, some of which appear to be connected. There’s also a skylight. The top of the trunk broke off where a mama and papa Pileated Woodpecker made a nest in 2015. The birds hollowed a cavity about 24 inches deep, with an 8-inch diameter. That left less than two inches for the nest’s exterior wall. Nine months after the nestlings fledged, the tree broke at its weakest point, the nest entry hole.

The skylight tree hosts squirrels year-round, and each spring, several cavity-nesting birds take up residence. Sometimes they move into ready-made cavities, and sometimes they excavate from scratch. Watch the video to see woodpecker excavation work, as well as a starling who’s cleaning debris from an earlier resident’s hole.

Have you seen any creature cavities in your backyard?

2 thoughts on “Life in a Snaggy Wood”

    1. Thank you, Julia. I feel privileged to see the wildlife goings-on outside my window, and it’s a joy to share that with others.

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