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Field Notes

Which Trees Help Wildlife Thrive?

A silhouette of an oak tree.

Trees and wildlife, trees help wildlife thrive. I never really thought about the connection. until we started learning how to help wildlife on our 3-acre homestead. And what we learned is hundreds of animals count on trees to help them survive.

The Mighty Oak

Wow, but think about it. Trees provide shelter for nesting birds and squirrels. A single oak tree provides food (mostly in the form of leaves) for over 500 different caterpillars, not to mention the 100 animals that eat the oak’s acorns.

trees help wildlife
Acorns provide food to over 100 animals.

But do I really want a bunch of creepy caterpillars in my yard? You bet if you want birds. A chickadee pair must feed its babies over 6,000 caterpillars in one season to raise them. Since all baby birds need caterpillars to fledge (since they can’t yet eat seeds), you need a lot in your backyard to keep them healthy!

trees help wildlife
A chickadee with a caterpillar ready to feed its young. Photo: Doug Tallamy

Dead Trees Help Wildlife

And what about trees that have died? Dead trees are the second most important tree for animals to thrive. How? By providing shelter and nutrients to over 1000 critters. Think salamanders, beetles, rabbits, and many, many more. Plus mushrooms often grow on rotting trees providing much-needed food for turtles, deer and birds.

A dead tree covered in moss provides shelter to over 1,000 animals.

So what are the 2 most important trees for wildlife? In our book, the oak tree and the dead, dying tree. And if you are planting an oak, look for one that is native to your area and has a high-fat content in its acorns (who knew acorns vary in fat content?). The trees will help wildlife thrive and you will be helping the planet at the same time. A win/win.

So what can you do to help support wildlife? Plant an oak, or better yet, lots of oaks. And leave those fallen dead trees for shelter and food. The animals will thank you.

To learn more, read:

The Wildlife Benefits of Acorns and Oaks

Dead Trees are Anything but Dead

9 Trees that will Attract Winter Wildlife

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