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Plant Trees, Help Animals!

Nature’s ultimate multi-taskers give wild creatures shelter, food, and more

The Humane Society of the United States

  • As this chipmunk demonstrates, when trees reach old age they offer convenient cavities for storage. iStock/Bruce MacQueen

  • Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed by drilling sap wells, which then attract hummingbirds and others. John Harrison

  • With natural homes like this hollow tree, animals are less likely to explore chimneys and attics. John Harrison

  • Northern flickers, a common backyard woodpecker, may excavate a cavity nest in a large old tree. John Harrison

  • Waxwings seem to know when and where berries are ripe, and often come to feed in large numbers. John Harrison

  • A hungry red-bellied woodpecker searches for overwintering insects hiding beneath bark crevices. John Harrison

  • Over time, some trees develop cavities large enough to give a screech owl a place to roost or nest. John Harrison

  • Crabapple trees offer beauty, color, and fruit that is irresistible to squirrels and many birds. John Harrison

Want to see more butterflies, birds, and other creatures in your yard? Bring in a few native trees and see what happens!

Amazing and beautiful beings themselves, trees multi-task like crazy, providing many essentials of life—food, cover, shelter, and nest sites—for creatures large and small.

A tree to call home

Pine, spruce, and hemlock trees have year-round dense foliage, creating ideal cover from predators and shelter from the elements.

Trees of all kinds shelter wildlife among and beneath their branches, within loose bark where insects overwinter, in cavities, and in burrows beneath their roots.

Nearly all species of trees comfortably host some nesters. The thorny branches of hawthorn trees make especially safe nesting sites, and conifers are favored for the dense cover they offer.

As trees age, they become valuable real estate for nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers, because softer trunk interiors are more easily excavated to create nesting cavities.

All-they-can-eat buffet

It might be easier to list which parts of trees don’t provide food!

In spring and summer, birds and small mammals chow on tree flower buds. Tree leaves are eaten by caterpillars and by many other insects and insect larvae; these then become food for birds who are building nests, incubating eggs, and feeding young. And pine trees support sawflies, whose larvae help feed early bluebird nestlings.

Pollen and nectar from trees also attract pollinators that become food for birds. Butterflies and moths feed on spruces, and in turn are food for birds in their northern breeding grounds.

Cherry and plum trees provide berries in late summer, nourishing migratory birds for their journeys, and tent caterpillars attracted to these trees feed both birds and bats.

Wintertime staples

In fall and winter, flowering trees—maples, oaks, birches, dogwoods, poplars, aspens, cottonwoods, crabapples, hickories, hawthorns, and others—produce nuts, berries, capsules, or drupes that birds and mammals will feed on.

Evergreens like pines, spruces, and hemlocks have seeds in their pinecones, providing nutritious food for chickadees, nuthatches, crossbills, pine siskins, squirrels, and chipmunks.

Get planting!

Check with a local nursery, university extension office, or native plant society for species and planting suggestions for your area.

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