Trees That Attract Birds: Wildlife Trees or Snags

Dead trees, called 'snags' or 'wildlife trees' continue to find purpose at the end of their life as a habitat for birds.

When you think of trees that attract birds, you probably envision a healthy, vibrant tree.  What many people don’t realize is that birds are also attracted to trees that have reached the end of their lives.

Predatory Bird Snag Tree

White Backed Vulture in perched on a dead tree in South Africa.

Dead trees are referred to as ‘snags’ or ‘wildlife trees’.  While it may seem that they no longer have any contribution to make to the environment around them – looks can be deceiving.  Trees that have died continue to be used by birds for nesting sites and for perching.  Nature is filled with dead trees and you’ll often find birds perched up in their leafless branches.

Our first impulse when we have a dead tree in our landscape, is to have it removed.  But, are we missing an opportunity to provide a different type of habitat for birds?

Snag Tree Birds

Eucalyptus tree before and 10 years later.

I have been watching the gradual decline of the eucalyptus tree, pictured above.  While it was sad to see it die, its barren branches are now the favorite perch for a pair of Harris hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus).

Harris hawk on the branch of a snag tree.

Harris hawk on the branch of a snag tree.

I pass by this dead eucalyptus tree at least once a month and almost without fail, there is at least one Harris hawk sitting up in its branches.

In addition to hawks; other birds-of-prey such as eagles and owls are also often seen perching up in wildlife trees.  Besides soaring through the sky, looking for prey – perching up in a dead, leafless tree is another way that they hunt for prey.

Wildlife trees also attract smaller bird species, including hummingbirds who enjoy the view from up above.  Woodpeckers are also attracted to dead trees.

Snag Tree

Dead tree located within a demonstration garden to illustrate the different species of birds attracted to snags.

Dead trees will not stand forever as they are slowly decaying – but many can last for years.  While they offer many benefits to birds, wildlife trees can pose a hazard if located near structures or areas where people frequent where falling branches or the tree itself will cause damage or injury.  Smaller trees do not pose as large a risk, but take care to keep them away from anything that can be affected by falling debris.

Certified arborists can help you in your decision of whether or not to keep a dead tree as a wildlife habitat by determining the risks to the tree and structures below.  In some cases, they can minimize certain risk factors by pruning branches in danger of falling.

Bald Eagle Tree

Bald eagle perched up high.

If you have a dead or dying tree in your landscape, you have a wonderful opportunity to attract a variety of birds, who will enjoy their new perch up high while you will be able to view them up close.

For more information on snags or wildlife trees, click here.

  1. Jo-Ann says

    Great article about the importance of “leaving things alone” in nature; instead of removing dead trees because they simply look ugly, look at the benefits for so many species of birds by leaving them to simply decay over time. Perching, hunting, nesting…all happen on dead trees…nature wastes not and wants not!

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