In the Shadows of Giants
Have you ever stopped and marveled at a huge old tree, sat in its shade, photographed it, or thought about how many creatures might call it home? Well, just like whales or elephants, large old trees are among the biggest living things on Earth. And like most big things, they are vanishing.
Big trees offer benefits to wildlife such as large quantities of fruits and foraging surfaces, complex branching structures for supporting nests, large internal cavities for shelter, and nice shady microclimates to escape from heat and predators. If you had 10 younger trees that took up an equivalent area, you still could not replace the value of one big old tree. Even after they are dead, large old trees provide homes and food for numerous animals. Birds, such as Pileated Woodpeckers and Barred Owls, need large-diameter trees for nesting. Mammals, like black bears and raccoons, seek respite among their branches. And let's not forget the countless species of fungi, invertebrates, slugs, and snails that may live part, or all, of their life cycle on one big tree.
Large old trees have historically been removed due to logging, wildfire, agriculture, and for the safety of people and their property. However, they can survive in "disturbance refugia," or areas that have been spared the flame, the axe, and the plow. Places like backyards, cemeteries, and city parks can act as refuges for large old trees, but if located in urban areas, threats like introduced pests, pathogens, or pollution might be of concern. If you have a big tree on your property, consider hiring a certified arborist to assess soil quality; reduce threats from diseases, pests, and lightning; and even reinforce weak branches or trunks to eliminate safety risks. If an arborist determines that you do have a safety risk, he or she will know how and when to prune hazardous branches.
You don't have to have a big tree on your property to appreciate them. American Forests is a nonprofit conservation organization that maintains the National Register of Big Trees. Trees on this list are deemed National Champions, the biggest of their kind in the nation. More than 200 species of trees do not yet have a champion, so if you know of a special big tree, why not nominate it? These giants among us are not just champions of history; they are biodiversity champions as well.
Sorry, Whooping Crane, but we're in it to win it. Photo by Bob Vuxinic.
Get the Madness
March Migration Madness is an annual tradition here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year's March Migration Madness tournament features 16 surprising species chosen by the Lab's Facebook fans. YardMap fans chose the Pileated Woodpecker to represent us, and we're happy to report that "our" bird breezed past the American Kestrel to advance to the next round, the Airborne Eight.
Stop by the Lab of Ornithology's Facebook page tomorrow, March 22, to vote again; the Pileated Woodpecker will be staring down the Whooping Crane for a spot in the Feathered Four. After you vote, share it with your friends to rally support for our mascot. You can also vote on new matchups throughout the tournament each weekday until April 1.
Get your downloadable bracket
today, pick your favorites, and play along as we whittle it down to one winged winner on April 1!