About half of Pennsylvania is forested, and slightly more than half of that forestland is dominated by large trees. Only a small percentage of these large trees are dead, deteriorating or harboring cavities that birds and mammals use for dens or nest sites. To help offset this disparity, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been manufacturing nest boxes for everything from bluebirds to wood ducks for years at its Howard Nursery in Centre County.
In recent years, Howard Nursery has produced in excess of 2,000 bluebird boxes, 5,000 bluebird box kits, hundreds of wood duck, kestrel, barn owl and bat boxes for placement on State Game Lands and other lands enrolled in the Game Commission’s cooperative public access programs. These wildlife homes are also available for sale to the public for placement on private land.
Bluebirds and wood ducks, in particular, have benefited greatly from nest boxes. Both species – reeling from insufficient nesting sites for years – have rebounded to respectable numbers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere as a result of thousands of nesting boxes being placed afield by wildlife managers, hunters and boy scouts, to name a few. Other beneficiaries of these wildlife boxes include house wrens, tree swallows, flying squirrels, screech owls and woodpeckers.
The Value of Dead Trees
Nest boxes are invaluable to wildlife, but they won’t replace a squirrel’s need for dead trees and snags. It has been estimated that dead trees and trees that contain decaying wood provide important habitat for about 25 percent of the forest wildlife species in the northeastern United States. Considering that, it quickly becomes obvious that nesting boxes only can help ease the demand. Moreover, nest boxes just don’t provide the insulating qualities that tree cavities offer in winter. They are mostly a warm-weather solution to the plight of cavity-nesters, not a panacea.
Keep Dead Trees
The Game Commission’s ongoing nest box program and the efforts of caring conservationists have helped many native cavity-nesters exceed the limitations imposed by insufficient natural nesting sites. But nesting boxes are only part of the answer to Pennsylvania’s shortage of dead trees and snags. Private landowners can play an important role in maintaining the scarce and valuable resource of dead and dying trees by conserving as many as possible.