By FWC 

Don't Cut Down That Dead Tree (Unless it's a Risk to Safety)

Snags Procide Important Ecological Service

 

Last updated 12/30/2023 at 10:32am

Courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A distant view of the top branches of a dead tree with multiple cormorants perched on the external limbs. The branches of snag offer great vantage points for birds.

Have you ever seen an old, dead tree standing in a forest and thought, "Shouldn't that tree be taken down?" It turns out there are good reasons land managers choose to leave dead trees, called "snags," standing. For many animals, snags provide essential shelter and food, and for people they can provide great opportunities to see birds and other wildlife.

What Are Snag Trees?

Snag trees are dead or dying trees that remain upright where they grew. They may no longer be living, but they are far from lifeless. In fact, snag trees are bustling hubs of animal activity, benefiting a wide range of creatures that call Florida home.

Homes for Florida's Flying Friends

Woodpeckers, owls and other birds that nest in cavities depend on snags for shelter and a place to raise their young. They make their nests inside the dead or dying trees and leave the cavities after their young have fledged. Other animals, such as bats and flying squirrels, then make use of these snug spaces for their own homes.

Snacks for Scavengers

Snag trees provide food sources like insects, fungi and other decomposing lifeforms that animals love to eat. The decaying wood is teeming with life, making it a valuable hunting ground for creatures like woodpeckers, nuthatches and other birds that eat insects. The insects attracted to snag trees are also a delicious buffet for bats, which are essential in controlling pest insect populations.

Perfect Perches

For wildlife viewers and photographers, snag trees offer ideal vantage points for birdwatching and observing various animals. Wildlife photographers often find that snag trees offer a prime spot to capture stunning images of birds in their natural habitat.

Courtesy T. Dunkerton, FWC

A Peregrine Falcon perched in a dead snag shows how birds find these "leftover" trees useful.

Conservation and Preservation

The significance of snag trees in the web of life of Florida cannot be overstated. When it can be done safely, protecting these dead trees by leaving them in place can help keep precious habitat for Florida's unique wildlife.

Where to Find Snag Trees

Snag trees can be found in just about any of Florida's natural areas and conservation lands. Some of the best places to spot snag trees include FWC's wildlife management areas. On these natural areas, FWC biologists carefully consider when and where to safely leave snags standing for the benefit of wildlife. Closer to home, you can often also find snags in your neighborhood or city park. Keep a lookout and you might see an owl or a woodpecker on a snag!

 

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