You have to be a bit of a detective to see life in a dead tree. Most people just walk on by, maybe wondering if that dead tree should be cut down and removed. But take a more careful look and you might catch a glimpse of some truly beautiful creatures who call a rotting tree home. Known as Wildlife Trees, these standing dead trees may not have the same appeal to the eye as living trees. Even with no leaves, old bark hanging off the trunks, and lichen or moss growing along its limbs, these dead trees support a wide array of life.
Have you ever noticed the holes in the trunk of dead trees? You may recognise these as woodpecker homes but did you know that the shape of the hole will tell you who made a nest in the tree? Do you see a rectangular opening? That was made by the large Pileated Woodpecker. Round holes are likely made by the elusive Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers, or perhaps the commonly seen Northern Flicker. Watch for a glimpse of red, black and white and you may have spotted one of these pretty woodpeckers.
If you see many tiny holes, you are looking at a tree that once fed the Red Breasted Sapsucker. The sapsucker uses its beak to drill holes and let the sap ooze out. Contrary to its name, it does not suck the sap but rather laps it up with its long tongue and eats the insects attracted to the sweet liquid flowing out of the tree. Hummingbirds also take advantage of the dripping sap left by these woodpeckers. Rotting trees also sustain millions of insects, which are food for the numerous other species of birds you may see along the trail. Many birds like owls and cavity nesting waterfowl such as Wood Ducks, mergansers, and Bufflehead, all need holes for nesting as they cannot excavate their own cavity.
And see all that loose bark? Loose bark on a tree is a great place for a bat to roost during the day. The most common bat found in this area is the Little Brown Bat. All 19 species of Canadian bats eat insects, and the Little Brown Bat can eat its own weight in moths and mosquitoes every day. The bat is the only mammal that can fly and some can live up to 30 years! If you are walking at dusk you will see these tiny mammals flying overhead. Watch for the Bald Eagles and other raptors resting on the top most branches as they survey their river domain. Wildlife trees maintain a world of living things and are an important part of the river environment.