Many animals live in tree holes where they make their nests and keep their babies sheltered from the elements. While only a few species are responsible for creating these comfy cavities, many more make their homes inside them. Animals that live in tree holes are usually birds or small mammals, but occasionally reptiles and insects make their homes here as well.
Animals That Live in Tree Holes
Today we will take a look at 9 animals that live in tree holes and why they enjoy their sheltered arboreal nests.
Woodpeckers not only nest in tree holes, they are also the main animals responsible for making them. Different species of woodpeckers prefer different types of trees. They usually bore their holes into dead trees or dead parts of live trees. However, they will sometimes make holes in live softwood trees as well.
While many homeowners may think woodpeckers are harmful to their homes and to the trees on their property, they are actually beneficial. These birds are able to find and catch pests inside trees that other birds cannot reach. This keeps the trees healthy and thriving.
While some woodpecker species reuse their nest cavities, many make new ones each year. This provides other woodland creatures with a chance to use their old burrows.
Owls are incapable of making their own tree holes, but that doesn’t stop them from nesting in them. Species like boreal owls, elf owls, barn owls, and screech owls, to name just a few, make their nests in the abandoned tree cavities of woodpeckers or naturally occurring cavities that have formed in trees.
While it may seem like a pain for these animals to fly through the forest in search of the perfect hole to nest in there are many advantages to using a tree hole nest over a nest built in the branches of the tree.
Tree hole nests are much more protected from the elements, so in regions where there may be snow or cold temperatures during breeding season, tree holes keep the nest and the babies much warmer than exposed tree nests. They also allow for the nest to be much more defendable.
Since predators only have one way in and out, this allows the parent owls to more easily keep their babies safe. Tree nests are also easier to build nests in. They take much less resource gathering, allowing the parents to add a smaller amount of nesting material before adding their feathers and laying their eggs.
3. Tree Squirrels
Most species of tree squirrels also utilize the old nests of woodpeckers and naturally occurring holes in trees. While they won’t make their own holes in trees, they will often do their best to enlarge the hole they find.
Squirrel nests are called dreys and are lined with leaves, grasses, and the fur of the squirrels. Unlike many species on this list, squirrels utilize their tree nests year-round. Even when they aren’t breeding, they will sleep in their nest to stay warm and safe from predators.
Mink make their nests inside holes in fallen trees. What may have been a woodpecker, owl, or squirrel hole in a healthy upright tree becomes a mink nest in a fallen tree. Mink are voracious carnivores that will eat just about anything they can catch.
While they are very aggressive toward most other animals and even most other minks, they will nest together during breeding season. Females will often mate with multiple males to ensure her babies get the best genetics possible. After the breeding season ends, mink go back to defending their territory and their tree nests from each other.
These small mammals get a bad rap from movies and TV shows where they are often depicted getting stuck in their hair and/or drinking blood. While there are species of blood-feeding bats, humans are not their natural food source and most will stay as far away from humans as possible.
Most bats and all US native bats are actually very important to the ecosystem. They feed on pesky mosquitos, moths, and other flying bugs and, like bees, they are also pollinators.
Many species of bats make their homes in caves, but some do utilize holes in trees and holes in the bark in order to roost during the day and leave their babies at night while they hunt. If you have bats nesting in a tree in your yard, you should consider yourself very lucky. Do your best to make sure they stay safe and you will surely have a decline in mosquitos in your area.
Like woodpeckers, two species of chickadee are also known to create their own tree nests. Black-capped and Carolina chickadees both use their small beaks to hollow out holes in trees. These birds will usually search for a small hole in a tree and then enlarge it to suit their nesting needs.
Also, like woodpeckers, it is very rare for these birds to reuse a nest, so their holes are then recycled for other species.
Red-breasted and brown-headed nuthatches are also tree cavity excavators. Their preferred trees to nest in are aspens, as these trees have much softer wood than other conifers, but if they can’t find suitable aspen, they will use other trees.
These birds will reuse their nests if they have to, but they prefer to build a new nest each year. While searching for the perfect nesting site, these birds become very aggressive, often chasing other species from trees they think they may want to nest in.
When thinking of animals that nest in trees, ducks may not come to mind, but there are in fact three species in the US that make use of cavity nests. Common goldeneye, bafflehead, and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks all nest in tree cavities.
Ducks in tree cavities don’t make sense for a reason. While most tree cavity nesters keep their babies safe and secure in the nest until they are old enough to take care of themselves, baby ducks don’t have that luxury. At only a day of age, common goldeneye chicks must jump from their nest to the ground, which can often be a 40-foot drop.
Scientific name: Procyon lotor
Raccoons are very opportunistic animals. They have evolved to live near humans and are not afraid to dig through our trash to find tasty morsels of food. This carefree resourcefulness is also applied to their nesting sites. Raccoons will nest basically anywhere they think may be comfortable and safe, but one of those places is in holes in trees.
If raccoons are able to find tree holes that will fit them, they are happy to take advantage of the opportunity. They often have multiple nests and will maintain each of them just in case one is compromised.