Birds, Bees, and “Natural Areas”

One of the concerns we have with the way our wild lands are being managed is the disrespect for habitat. Many of those who support these actions – felling ‘non-native’ eucalyptus trees, removal of trees that are dead or dying even if  they’re not hazardous, stripping away ivy and understory vegetation – don’t actually realize the impacts on the wildlife that call those habitats home. (All the photographs here are courtesy wildlife photographer Janet Kessler.)


Eucalyptus trees are hugely important as habitat trees. They provide cover and nest sites for birds as large as Great Blue Herons and Double-Crested Cormorants and hawks and Great Horned Owls – and as small as Pygmy Nuthatches.

[Edited to Add: For more pictures of heron and cormorant nests – and the story that goes with them – please see the latest article on the Coyote Yipps blog. ]

2013-05-14 great blue herons nest

Great Blue Heron Nests in Eucalyptus – Photo: Janet Kessler

2013-05-142  double-crested cormorants nest

Double-crested cormorants nest – Photo: Janet Kessler

2013-05-13 eucalyptus rookery herons cormorants

Rookery tree – Photo: Janet Kessler

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree

Young Great Horned Owls being raised in Eucalyptus tree. Photo: Janet Kessler

Their branches and trunks provide a hunting ground for small birds like kinglets and Brown Creepers.

Brown creeper forages on eucalyptus

Brown creeper forages on eucalyptus. Photo: Janet Kessler

Since they flower in winter when few other food sources are available, they provide nectar for insects – and the birds that feed on the nectar, the insects, or both. Honeybees in particular depend on winter-flowering eucalyptus. Cavities provide nesting spot for some birds – and even bees, like Glen Canyon’s last remaining bee hive tree.

bees in euc

Beehive in eucalyptus tree (bees circled in red) – Photo: Janet Kessler


Dead or dying trees – of every species – are valuable habitat, for two reasons. They’re more likely to have cavities that are suitable for nesting (and are easier to excavate for woodpeckers and other cavity-building species). They also have bugs that come to feast on the decaying wood, and that’s bird-food.

2013-05-21 (2) hairy woodpecker

Hairy woodpecker in Glen Canyon Park. Photo: Janet Kessler

Unfortunately, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department – and now UCSF in its management of Sutro Forest – looks to remove ‘snags’ and dying trees.  They’ve been removed in Glen Canyon Park, and in Golden Gate Park, and this fall, massive removals could start in Sutro Forest.

2013-05-21 hairy woodpecker

Glen Canyon Park, Hairy Woodpecker. Photo: Janet Kessler

If that happens, it will have a negative impact on all the woodpeckers and cavity-nesting species of birds and even bats. It’s extremely important to leave these ‘in-decline’ trees as habitat, unless they are actually hazards.


Smaller birds and animals in particular need the cover provided by ivy and understory plants to hide from predators – and to nest.

Here’s a picture of a tiny Bewick’s Wren outside its Glen Canyon nest, taken in 2012. The tree it’s nesting in is so ivy-covered you can’t actually see it. The nest is completely hidden.

2012-04-11 bewick's wren nesting

Bewick’s wren outside nest. Photo: Janet Kessler

Here’s the same tree this year. The ivy is gone, the understory mowed down. Is the wren coming back? Not too likely.

2013-05-19 no nesting spot for wren

This year there’s no nesting spot for the wren. Photo: Janet Kessler

This entry was posted in "Natural" Areas Program, Ruins Habitat and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Birds, Bees, and “Natural Areas”

  1. L Tomasita Medal says:

    This is a stunningly beautiful post. Are you sending these to our politicians? Tomasita 415.242.1144


  2. Tony Holiday says:

    Beautiful pix. Sad news.

  3. LJ Speakup says:

    Fabulous. Please send to every SF politician. Thank you!

  4. ingrid says:

    Thank you for this poignant illustration. I’ve been exasperated with the dogmatic and dominant tenets of invasives biology. I hope for the day when the ideas of conciliation biology are, instead, considered the norm. I have to consider that optimistic outcome or the present-day eradication efforts will seem utterly unbearable.

  5. Pingback: Drought-Adapted Eucalyptus NOT Dying by the Thousand | Save Mount Sutro Forest

  6. Pingback: “Drought-Adapted Eucalyptus NOT Dying by the Thousand” | Death of a Million Trees

  7. Pingback: Drought-Adapted Eucalyptus NOT Dying by the Thousand | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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