Nine Wonderful Ways Wildlife Need Trees

From seed to sapling, from regal beauty to rotting log, our native trees give life to a truly amazing range of wildlife.

Living trees are an important food source for wildlife. They provide cover for resting, getting out of the bad weather, and hiding from predators. Many wildlife species use trees as places to nest, lay eggs and raise their young.

Standing dead and dying trees, called snags, are also used for nests, storage, foraging and perching. Even decaying trees serve a purpose – as hiding places, ground cover and to provide nutrients to the soil for seedlings.

In preparation for our upcoming Trees for Wildlife Giving Tuesday campaign (give early here!) to plant 1,000 native trees for wildlife, we present nine wonderful and remarkable ways that wildlife need trees.

Hibernation in Hollow Trees: American Black Bears

American Black Bear
American black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Dan Ridolphi.
With their short, curved claws, American black bears are great at climbing trees. Hollow trees are one of their favorite places to den during winter.

Feeding on Leaves of Wild Cherry, Ash, Poplars: Tiger Swallowtail

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger swallowtail butterfly. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kathy Koets.
Not all butterflies depend on wildflowers and shrubs. The magnificent tiger swallowtail butterfly often begins life as an egg laid on the leaf of a native tree, and uses trees throughout its lifecycle.

Living Mostly In and Between Trees: Flying Squirrels

Eastern Flying Squirrel
Eastern flying squirrel. Photo by Hazel Galloway.
Flying squirrels rarely touch the ground. They glide effortlessly between trees in a forest and make their homes in snags, woodpecker holes, nest boxes and abandoned nests of birds and other squirrels.

Feasting on Caterpillars: Breeding Birds

A warbler in the Viera Wetlands, Florida. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Susan Marshall.
Contrary to what many people believe, songbirds do not rely on just berries and seeds for food. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds rear their young on protein-rich insects. Caterpillars are a particularly important food for breeding birds – and most caterpillars are found on trees. The many species of oak collectively host 532 species of caterpillars!

Finding Food: Porcupines

Porcupine. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Joan Saba.
North American porcupines are good climbers and have a healthy appetite for wood. They eat bark and stems, and have even been known to invade campgrounds and chew on canoe paddles.

Habitat Protected and Enriched: Frogs and Fish

Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Jeremy La Zelle.
Every part of a tree participates in enriching a stream for aquatic life. Streamside trees shade streams, keeping developing eggs cool. Falling leaves provide food and shelter for aquatic insects, which become a food source. Roots from trees such as sycamore stabilize stream banks to slow erosion. Fallen trees create pools that provide a rest away from strong currents.

Staying Safe at Night: Arboreal Salamanders

arboreal salamander
Photo by Sally Farallon, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With their large toes and prehensile tail, arboreal salamanders can climb a tree up to 60 feet above the ground. They find food on the forest floor at night, and retreat to tree cavities in the summer to wait out dry weather.

Deadwood for Life: Raccoons

Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Carol Cox.
Birds, bats, squirrels and raccoons make nests in hollow cavities and crevices. Deadwood is like a gourmet restaurant for wildlife, attracting insects, mosses, lichens and fungi. And decaying logs on the forest floor act as “nurse logs” for new seedlings.

Living in the Crevices of Loose Bark: Bats

brown bat
A brown bat roosting on a tree trunk. Photo by Mark Graham, National Park Service.
Endangered Indiana bats, along with many other species of bats, roost and raise their young under the loose bark of living trees as well as dead or dying trees.

Donate NowPlease join us in celebrating all the ways trees help wildlife this Giving Tuesday by donating to help plant 1,000 trees for wildlife.