A spruce tree was felled in my neighborhood recently. I have no quarrels with its removal, especially since it was leaning over my roof. But some wild neighbors were not so upbeat about the incident. A Red Squirrel scolded anyone within earshot. It had lost its secure pathway between the front and backyards. Now it must run on the ground before once again climbing into the safety of loftier pathways.
Spruce trees have much to offer the non-human inhabitants of our urban landscapes. The noisy Red Squirrel may also have been complaining about the loss of a nest. Both squirrels and birds like to nest in spruce trees. The dim interior of the spruce is a good place to look for owls roosting during daylight.
Spruce trees shelter animals during storms, their dense branches providing a dry, calm haven from wind, rain and snow.
Spruces offer a high perch from which every bird, house finch to crow to robin, can declare their territory by song sung lustily from the topmost branches. When the Sharp-shinned Hawk swoops the birdfeeder for a feathery meal, the juncos and chickadees scatter to hide themselves in the spruce’s embrace.
Last winter, flocks of White-winged Crossbills descended upon Utah. Their bill crosses at the tip, which makes it perfect for prying open spruce cones to get to the tasty and nutritious seeds. These birds wander the Northern Hemisphere in search of abundant cone crops of spruce and other conifers.
The noble, lofty spruce is more than a decorative landscape tree. It offers food, home, safety and shelter to our wild neighbors.
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Wild About Utah is a weekly nature series produced by Utah Public Radio in cooperation with Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon Society. Archives of the program can be found at www.wildaboututah.org.