Q. Dear Twig: What good are dead trees? There's one in the woods behind our house. My dad says he won't cut it down.
A.: Good for him! A dead tree actually does lots of good. (As long as there's no risk of it falling on something important, like you or your house. Then best to cut it down.) Birds and squirrels and other animals may nest or sleep in holes in the trunk. Bugs that eat wood may live in it too. And so may bugs that eat bugs that eat wood, plus birds (like woodpeckers) that eat bugs that eat wood and may too eat bugs that eat bugs that eat wood.
In all, more than 500 bird species and 300 mammal species use dead trees for food, nesting and shelter. So says the U.S. Forest Service, which runs a program called "Animal Inn" to get more people to keep dead trees instead of cutting them down for firewood.
Learn more at http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/nr/wildlife/animalinn/. Be sure to check out the "Just for Kids" link!
P.S. The word that forestry scientists use for a still-standing dead tree is "snag."
Notes: The Web site mentioned, http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/nr/wildlife/animalinn/, is the "Animal Inn" site. Sources also included the Ohio State University Extension fact sheet "Dead Trees as Resources for Forest Wildlife" by Melissa Santiago and Amanda Rodewald, online at http://ohioline.osu.edu/w-fact/0018.html.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, firstname.lastname@example.org, (330) 263-3776. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.