There are many reasons to preserve and manage forests and the trees within. Trees cool us. They give us oxygen. They are carbon sinks. They filter pollution. They buffer sound. Trees provide beauty and a sense of place and promote mental well being. They provide wildlife habitat.
We are fortunate to live in a region that includes the large St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the vast Apalachicola National Forest, many state parks, forests and wildlife management areas, most of which contain well managed forests. We know how important these large holdings are to both resident and migratory birds. But how important is our urban forest to birds? Tallahassee’s urban forest is made up of trees in your yard, in my yard and throughout residential and commercial areas including local park land and school yards.
Let’s take a look at just one in-town yard in the Doomar Drive area and see how birds are doing there. When Ann and Don Morrow bought their home over 25 years ago, the house was shaded by a grove of shortleaf pine trees which surround the house and a few big sweetgums. As biologists, they understood the importance of trees to birds, particularly this pine grove. These large pines and hardwoods harbor abundant insects which are then eaten by birds – warblers, woodpeckers, wrens and many more – throughout the year. They also understood that pines in a grove like this move together and protect each other during storms. In all these years, through several hurricanes, their grove of pines has stood.
Over the years, they have encouraged the natural seeding and growth of other species such as black cherry and have planted a diversity of trees – red buckeye, American beech, blue beech, Florida sugar maple, silverbell to mention a few. Their yard is now beautifully forested.
Don, an avid birder, has recorded 121 species of birds in or flying above their yard. Feeding guilds of nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, warblers and downy woodpeckers move along the limbs of trees hunting for insects. Flycatchers and gnatcatchers capture flying insects above the branches. Mississippi kites have nested high in the pines. Goldfinch and pine siskins cling to sweetgum balls to eat the tiny sweetgum seeds. Without this diverse forest, they would have far fewer birds.
Most people in Tallahassee realize the value of a healthy urban forest and, for that reason, we now have an urban forester who will oversee an evaluation of the current state of our urban forest and the development of a plan to protect, increase and manage the forest in the future – the Urban Forest Master Plan.