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Evergreens- A Winter Oasis for Wildlife

By keeping their leaves through the winter, evergreens provide food and for the animals that must face harsh winter conditions.

The changing of seasons in many parts of the country brings different characteristics to our landscape and to the wildlife that inhabits it. However, one group of trees remains steadfast in its commitment to photosynthesis by keeping its leaves all winter long: the evergreens.

Evergreens give us a sprinkle of green color in the tree line. By keeping their leaves through the winter, evergreens provide food and shelter for the animals that must face harsh winter conditions.

Animals survive winter by either hibernating, migrating or adapting to the conditions. For animals that live in cold climates, finding food and shelter can be tough in the cold winter months. Many animals take advantage of a group of trees that retain their leaves year-round – the conifers.

While most coniferous forests are in the far north, many parts of the United States have patches of evergreen forests that are a winter “oasis” for wildlife. These evergreens provide food and shelter, the two most crucial needs, for many critters throughout the winter.

Not all birds fly south for the winter. In the winter months, it can be difficult for birds to find shelter. When the temperatures drop, and the snow starts falling, overwintering birds need a place to escape the cold and wind.  

Evergreen trees and shrubs are crucial winter habitats for birds. Coniferous trees provide a place for birds to hide from the cold and protection from precipitation. Many retain their berries into the winter months, providing an essential food source to nonmigratory birds.

The black-capped chickadee is an excellent example of a non-migratory bird that has taken advantage of a seasonal niche. Competition for available resources is much lower after most birds have migrated south. Black-capped chickadees are able to use pine trees for shelter and enjoy the berries that are still attached to the branches of trees, without having to compete with other species of birds.

Birds are not the only animals that use evergreens for shelter in the winter. Many species of coniferous trees provide shelter as well as food in the winter season for mammals such as the white-tailed deer. Stands of coniferous trees provide areas for deer to rest and eat. Since evergreens retain their needles in the winter, snow is able to build up to provide wind resistance and cover.

Large stands of evergreens that provide shelter to deer are sometimes referred to as “deer yards.” They can encompass many acres – possibly hundreds of acres. The main characteristic of a deer yard is the continuous coniferous canopy, which helps the deer by reducing wind chill and creating an insulated ceiling when snow builds up on the branches. The branches also catch the snow before it hits the forest floor, which makes it easier for the deer to walk around the understory.

Conifers play a special role in supporting wildlife in the winter by providing a much-needed source of food. Needles, twigs, bark, and seeds contained in the cones provide nourishment for wildlife. Chipmunks and squirrels enjoy eating the seeds of pinecones. Deer and black bears sometimes enjoy a snack of tree bark. Some species of woodpeckers stick around to peck into the soft wood of pine trees in search of larvae. Owls can be heard in the cold winter air hooting from their roost in an evergreen.

Article by: Rebecca Reynandez

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