If you love trees, chances are you also care about the wildlife that call your beautiful trees home – squirrels, songbirds, woodpeckers, owls and other raptors rely on tree limbs, branches, and cavities for raising babies, roosting, seeking refuge from predators, and finding prey. When trees are pruned in the spring, wildlife that rely upon them become vulnerable; particularly babies, who are knocked out of their nests, injured, orphaned, and killed. If they’re lucky, they are found alive and brought to Lindsay’s wildlife hospital. Many, however, die from exposure, predation, starvation, or succumb to their injuries.
You can help save wildlife in your neighborhood by waiting until late fall to prune your trees, when they are dormant and deciduous trees have lost their leaves. It may actually be the best time of year, since some tree diseases (like Sudden Oak Death, SOD) can be spread when pruning wounds provide access to pathogens in terminal host trees, such as coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) and California black oaks (Quercus kelloggii), among others. For an up-to-date list of plants that are susceptible to SOD, click here.
If you hire a certified arborist to prune your trees, ask if they’re a wildlife friendly business – one that cares about your trees and the wildlife that make your trees their home. Request that they perform a pre-work wildlife survey, regardless of the time of year they’re working on your trees.
You can perform a wildlife survey by visually inspecting trees for nests and occupied cavities. Binoculars are helpful, but some nests are challenging to spot. Hawk nests are large and conspicuous, while songbird nests are small and camouflaged. Watch for busy parents and listen for chirping babies, particularly at dawn and dusk. Scan trees from all sides, and train your eyes to spot shapes that don’t fit normal branching patterns. Don’t forget that nocturnal wildlife, such as barn owls, often occupy tree cavities and hunker down, so investigate all cavities. Listen for other vocalizations, including ‘barks’ from mother squirrels.
Guess where else you should look for wildlife in your trees?…. on the ground! The bases of trees may contain indirect signs of wildlife, such as owl pellets, bird droppings, squirrel tracks, and shelled nuts. One more place to check… shrubs, which are ideal for concealing tiny hummingbird nests.
Finally, talk to you neighbors. A few are probably avid gardeners and birdwatchers, tuned into the presence of local wildlife in their backyards. If you spot a neighbor preparing to prune her trees in the spring, share this information so she can avoid inadvertently harming wildlife living in her trees. Most people grow attached to the animals that visit their yards and will thank you.
Proper pruning keeps your trees healthy and enhances wildlife habitat, but as with so many things, timing is everything. It’s heartbreaking to witness distraught people who care about animals arrive at our wildlife hospital with injured babies because they didn’t realize they were living in a tree that was pruned. My heart goes out to them, as it’s often too late to save the babies.
Thanks for caring about the wildlife that call your backyard home; they’re depending on you!
Cheryl M. McCormick, Ph.D., Executive Director, Lindsay Wildlife Experience