Leave Standing Dead Trees (When Safe)

~ Tips for Attracting Pollinators and Wildlife ~


Pileated woodpeckers build their nesting cavities in standing dead trees. Many other types of wildlife will use the cavities after the pileated woodpeckers abandon it. Photo credit: Chris Waits, CC BY 2.0 

Standing dead trees, also known as snags, are extremely valuable to wildlife and even some pollinators. Just a few examples of how snags are used by wildlife and pollinators include:

  1. Beetle larvae and other wood boring insects create tunnels in the dead tree. Many of these insects then become food for other wildlife such as woodpeckers, songbirds, bats, etc.
  2.  Approximately 30% of North America’ native bee species nest in dead trees. Some, like carpenter bees, excavate their own nesting tunnels, while most make use of abandoned beetle tunnels.
  3. The loose bark on many dead trees provides hiding and/or resting spots for many species of butterflies and moths, bats, songbirds, lizards, etc.
  4. Woodpeckers and a few other bird species will excavate nesting cavities in the dead trees where they will raise their young.
  5. Screech owls, squirrels, raccoons, wood ducks, cavity nesting songbirds (like bluebirds), and many other wildlife species will make their home in the abandoned cavities created by woodpeckers or other cavity excavating birds.
  6. Feral honey bee colonies may move into a hollow dead tree.
  7. Hawks and other raptors will perch on the branches of the dead tree when they are hunting.

Standing dead trees are valuable additions to the natural ecosystem and can attract many different types of pollinators and wildlife. Photo credit: Kim Unertl, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Obviously, standing dead trees can be a safety hazard or potentially cause property damage. No matter how much we love wildlife and pollinators, most of us wouldn’t want to leave a standing dead tree right next to our homes or the kids’ swing set. That’s perfectly understandable, and dead trees in those types of locations need to be removed because of the risks they pose. However, if you have a standing dead tree in an area of your property that doesn’t get a lot of traffic and where there isn’t a risk of it falling onto any structures or powerlines, then leaving it alone can benefit wildlife for many years to come.




Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.

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