Creating Wildlife Habitats with Dead Wood

a fallen pine tree with much bark missing

Logs provide shelter, humid microclimate, basking sites, navigational aids, and food resources. Photo: H. K. Ober, UF/IFAS.

Diversity in the landscape is an important key to the success of urban wildlife. Wildlife in Florida struggle to find habitat with our growing human population. It is important that we attempt to offer small natural spaces in our backyards as well as in underutilized common areas with in our communities as corridors for them to continue with their natural ecological processes and access resources to survive.

Dead wood can be extremely useful to wildlife in your landscape, so before clearing it all away consider trying to incorporate it. The types of dead wood used by wildlife are classified as snags, logs, or brush piles. Snags are standing dead trees, logs are large-diameter dead wood laying on the ground, and brush piles are created by gathering small-diameter branches and twigs into a loose pile.

Brush piles are generally the easiest to incorporate into your landscape as they can take up very little room and the materials are generally easily sourced. Logs are not as easy to come by and will take up more space in your landscape. Snags are harder to add to your landscape as they normally occur naturally.

Brush Piles

Piles of woody vegetation provide wildlife in your landscape with shelter from weather and predators. Lower portions of a brush pile provide a cool, shaded area to amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Upper layers can be used by songbirds as perches and nest sites.

Brush piles also provide a food resource for wildlife. Decaying brush piles attract insects which in turn attract insect-eating animals. As more small insect-eating animals come to the brush pile for food and shelter, larger predators like owls, hawks, foxes, and coyotes may also come by.

Logs

Logs on a forest floor can provide animals in a variety of sizes with shelter—from animals as big as bears and turkey vultures, to small creatures like mice, lizards, toads, and frogs. Of course, providing logs does not guarantee that these creatures will visit your landscape, but logs can still be beneficial.

Logs also provide food resources; fungi, spiders, beetles, termites, ants, grubs, worms, snails, and slugs can be found inside rotting logs. These residents are food for salamanders, snakes, birds, mice, shrews, and bears.

dead and leafless tree with several vultures perched on the branches

These vultures at Paynes Prairie enjoy the perch provided by this dead tree. UF/IFAS file photo.

Snags

Different kinds of trees develop cavities (holes) at different stages in the tree’s life cycle. Hardwood trees such as oaks, maples, and elms often form cavities while they are still alive. Conifers like pines and cypress are more likely to form cavities once the tree dies. Cavities in all types of trees can help wildlife.

Only a small number of the wildlife species who use cavities actually create them. These animals, called “primary cavity excavators,” include woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, and brown-headed nuthatches. There are many more species that use pre-existing cavities. These “secondary cavity users” are creatures like owls, bats, some songbirds, and small mammals.

Snags provide wildlife with more than just cavities for shelter. The crevices formed between peeling bark and the trunk of old trees provide bats and amphibians with protection from the sun. Additionally, branches without leaves provide birds of prey with perches. When the snag begins to decay, this wood is also home to insects and fungi which are a food source for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

As trees become diseased or die, consider leaving them as snags in your own landscape. You may want to try to determine what the cause of decline is, to be sure that the tree is not harboring invasive pests or contagious pathogens. If safety is a concern in leaving a tree standing, ask a tree surgeon to cut the snag to about 15 feet tall as this is still valuable to wildlife. It is still important to make sure that this will not be a risk to structures or property.

UF/IFAS Publications