For no good reason I was recently thinking about this past deer season and the things you notice when you sit for hours in a deer stand. While on watch, my eyes constantly search for a tell-tale flicker of a deer tail in the evergreens or, for a horizontal shape among mostly vertical trees. For the most part, though, much of my time is spent watching the antics of the gray and red squirrels foraging the forest floor for any nuts or seeds generously provided by the oak and beech trees. On a good day, some of the birds that call the forest home also entertain me.
It was on one of these cold afternoons last December that I spotted something I hadn’t noticed before. A round hole about two inches in diameter was chiseled about ten feet from the ground in a dead ash tree. It was only a few yards in front of me yet, I missed seeing it on earlier sits. The ash, like most of the others on the property, was an apparent victim of the insect infestation decimating others of its kind throughout New York State.
However, it wasn’t the dead ash that piqued my interest, it was the hole most likely originally made by a woodpecker. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about birds but, those who do say woodpeckers prefer excavating recently dead trees with firm heartwood and whose bark is still intact. Apparently, doing so is a regular part of courtship.
The tree in front of me appeared to be dead for some time as its bark was scaling off the trunk. It seemed the woodpecker who previously excavated the woodland apartment may have abandoned it but, that didn’t mean the shelter it provided wasn’t appreciated by other bird species. The cavities created by woodpeckers are used by other birds, those that can’t make their own cavities, but rely upon these cavities for nesting and raising their young. And that’s a good thing because the number of cavity nesting birds in New York state is diverse. In addition to woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, small owls, and even ducks find these cavities critical to their survival.
Sitting there, I couldn’t help wondering since this cavity was created, how many birds or small animals found this dead ash to be the perfect place to find shelter or to raise their young. The ash looks like it will be standing at least for a little while longer and hopefully, it will continue to be home to another generation of birds or other forest creatures.
Many of my non-hunting friends often ask me how I can sit in the woods for hours and not get bored. I tell them it’s easy. Nature has a way of entertaining me even if I don’t see deer. To some it may have only been a hole in a tree but, to me it provided a mental exercise in thinking about how important that little hole, high in a dead ash tree, was to so many other living things.