The Benefits Of A Dead Tree

"Did someone say there's a dead tree? Yum! Count me in!"

We've had some powerful storms in our neck of the woods for the last month. Non Birding Bill and I have been fortunate in not having any storm damage (heck of a light show, though), but Mr. Neil has lost some trees, one being a very large oak near the bird feeding stations--NOT the oak that supplied us with a tasty harvest of Sulphur Shelf--it's still standing tall (although the fungus has dried out).

This oak has been kind of the staging area for all the feeder birds. Up until a large bolt of lightening struck the giant tree a couple of weeks ago, all the birds would hang in there and make sure the coast was clear before coming down to the feeders. Woodpeckers would check for bugs, nuthatches would cache suet and nuts, mourning doves would flirt, and immature birds would beg from parents high in the branches as the adults fed, trying to show the young how to use the feeders. I always thought to myself that if something happened to that tree, it might affect the bird activity. Initially, it was thought that the tree had just lost a large branch, but an arborist came and pointed to where and how hard the tree was struck and needed to be cut down since it was so close to the house. When the yard crew cut the tree, you could see the charred core for the powerful bolt of lightening.

After the tree was cut down, I asked Mr. Neil what he was going to do with it. The tree fell into the woods (away from the house) and he was considering the idea of leaving it there to rot. I strongly favored the idea, though we lost a tree for the birds to hang out in before they go to the feeders, it would become a great brushy area and an awesome food source. Even though the tree has only been down a few weeks, the birds are already digging it.

Here is a black-capped chickadee going for tiny insects working around the dead leaves. This birds kept bouncing from clump to clump of dead leaves. As I was watching this chickadee, I could hear soft pecking from several different sources around me. As the oak had come down, a few other trees came down with it, so there are several dead trees surrounding the oak--an Old Country Buffet of all natural food for the birds (hm...can you have "all natural" and "Old Country Buffet" in the same sentence?).

One of the birds pecking was this tufted titmouse. The bird was really hammering away at this jagged edge of a broken branch. First it started at the top, and then the side. Anytime another titmouse flew it, this bird would chase it off. Something must have been good in there...

Eventually, the bird really started pecking away at the bottom and really excavating. The behavior was so fascinating, I thought I would digivideo what it was doing. Be alert, this clip is only six seconds long:

As soon as I had pressed record on my little digital camera, the titmouse got its reward--did you see the size of that grub?? I couldn't believe my luck of getting a quick video of the bird getting the food. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I can't wait to see what happens over the winter.

Another benefit to the missing large oak is that now the late afternoon sun casts a gorgeous glow on the feeding station--perfect for digiscoping. I found this female ruby-throated hummingbird preening in one of the small trees next to the nectar feeder. Earlier, when I had been filling all the empty seed feeders, she buzzed by head twice (I wasn't wearing red, so it wasn't like she thought I was food). The third time she buzzed, I turned around and followed her with my eyes. She flew twenty feet away to the hummingbird feeder, hovered for a moment and flew up into the tree. Hm, what is it Lassie? Is Timmy in the well again? Or is the nectar nasty in the hummingbird feeder. I took the feeder in, cleaned it out, put in fresh nectar and not five seconds after I hung it back up, she flew down and started feeding on the nectar. This bird has me trained--three buzzes and I fill the feeder. After she fed, she went to the tree to preen. Here's a video of her ablutions. Note how she periodically flicks out that tiny tongue:

And for those interested, a bee update will be coming up later today.