Trees support wildlife in a myriad of ways, providing valuable food, shelter and nesting opportunities. Mature trees are particularly important, and play a part in the survival of around 300 Australian reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects and mammals. Many of these depend entirely upon tree hollows for nesting and raising their young.
Tree hollows form when fungi and termites excavate the tree’s inner heartwood, sometimes gaining access after a limb has fallen, and are usually found in old or dead trees. The hollowing process is slow and typically a tree would be 100 years old by the time its hollows are useful. This means mature trees are a significant feature of an ecosystem.
Sadly, land clearing for agriculture and urban development, fire, logging, and firewood collection are all factors that have contributed to reducing the number of hollow-bearing trees over time, and this can lead to wildlife population decline or collapse. In fact, protection of stands of mature trees is imperative to the survival of critically endangered species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum in Victoria and the Mahogany Glider in Queensland, both of which can only raise their young in mature tree hollows. Retention of trees which will in time become hollow-bearing is also vital to enable the perpetuation of hollows in the ecosystem.
While responsible land management practices which recognise the importance of retaining hollow-bearing trees are ideal, it is possible to supplement the loss of natural hollows with artificial nest boxes. Nest boxes are helpful in urban environments where there has been a dramatic decline in native fauna due to habitat loss and removal of hollow-bearing trees.
Before you install a nest box, contact the local council to learn which animals are in your area. Then approach a nest box supplier to select the appropriate box. Each species has particular features it looks for in a suitable hollow and a nest box must mimic these features in its size, entry hole and position. For example, a micro bat nest box should be placed facing east to catch the morning sun and will need its entry at the bottom, making it undesirable to pest species such as the Indian Myna bird.
Installing a wildlife nest box in your yard is also a great opportunity to become a citizen scientist whereby you observe and record the behaviour of the returning wildlife. Providing this valuable information to local council and environmental management groups assists them to monitor native wildlife in order to better understand and care for our precious native neighbours.
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