Sunday, March 6, 2011

Things that eat or otherwise mangle trees

I'm gaining an appreciation of how scary it must be to be a tree. Even apart from things like wind and lightning and other weather-related hazards, there are apparently all sorts of animals that are eager to do major arboreal damage. (Can I use the word "arboreal" that way? I don't know, but I'm going to do it anyway.) The small lakes I visit in the Naugatuck State Forest, for example, are ringed with trees felled long ago by beavers (no word yet on whether any of these beavers are still around; I'll be keeping an eye out for them this spring). Beavers are impressive, of course, but they're not alone in their tree-destructive tendencies.

When I was out walking in the woods the other day, I saw some trees with all the bark stripped away up to about a foot above the ground. I've been doing some research (i.e. searching around on the internet), and the best I can figure out is that this is probably a hungry rabbit's doing -- rabbits don't hibernate in winter, I have learned, and they can have trouble finding food with all this snow around, so they sometimes eat bark. We have a pet rabbit at home (Phoenix, the cutest bunny ever), and I have no doubt a rabbit could do this kind of thing. (Phoenix often devotes himself to "projects" that involve tearing apart layers of cardboard, and he's very, very good at it.) From what I understand, these trees will probably die, since they need a fully-connected layer of bark to be able to transport nutrients and such -- I'll check back later in the year to see if these trees make it through their presumed-bunny-attack.

Today, Megan N. went with me into the woods (despite the rain), and we happened across some very extensive tree excavation. We were trying to think of what could possibly have made such large holes in (and in some places, through) the tree, and at such a height, leaving large wood chips all over the ground in the process. Again, after some internet research, my best explanation is that this is the work of a Pileated Woodpecker. I've seen Pileated Woodpeckers in these woods before, and I have to say, they're one of my favorites -- big, impressive, crow-sized birds, with bright red crests and huge, hammering beaks. But if this is the kind of thing they are capable of in search of an insect-y meal... I definitely wouldn't want to be a tree in their woods!

It's cool to see the kinds of impacts that animals can have on their environments. But yeah, trees live dangerous lives!


  1. I can vouch for the damage that a pileated woodpecker can do. I have this big rotten tree in my front yard (part of it used to hang over the house until a strong wind brought it down on the house). I'm not sure if the tree was rotten first or the damage caused by the pileated woodpecker (and other woodpeckers) caused the termites to move in. Either way, I also love these birds. They have this raucous cry, chase each other up and down trees and yet are quite shy around people. One time I got a photo of what I think was a young one (it was having the most awful hair day!).

    Sorry to keep spamming you with comments but your blog is exactly what I love about the internet - a way to catch up (in this case meet new family) with people and get to know them in a world too busy for frequent visits. And I love birds, plants, nature, etc.

    Chris Horvath (Paul's cousin)

  2. Oo, I'd love to have Pileated Woodpeckers in my front yard -- they're such awesome birds, but every time I see them they're usually flying away from me. Your comments are awesome, and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. :D