Evergreen trees are more prominent in the winter in our area, being the only bright color seen among the bleak, bare hardwood trees. Besides their visual appeal, evergreens provide important food and shelter for many wildlife species. Common evergreen trees in our area include several species of pine, red cedar and hemlock.
Food is provided by evergreens in the form of seeds, bark and foliage. The latter two are important particularly during the winter as an emergency food source.
Mourning dove, quail and turkey all feed on seeds and needles of pine.
Deer feed on foliage and twigs (called browse), especially young trees and seedlings. Hemlock is an important browse in the colder north and western U.S., but is still used for emergency winter food by deer here.
The gray squirrel will occasionally feed on the seeds.
Red-cedar has a cone that looks like a small blue berry, and is an important food source for several songbirds, particularly the cedar waxwing.
More important than a food source perhaps, evergreens provide important cover during the winter. Several birds prefer roosting in evergreens for protection from wind, snow and rain.
Because of their needles, evergreen canopies reduce the amount of snow that reaches the ground beneath them, making a good resting spot for mammals and game birds.
Red-cedar is an especially good “thermal shelter” due to its thick foliage. I’ve seen less than an inch of accumulation under cedars after a six inch snow. Cattlemen have used thick stands of red-cedar for decades as a natural barn to protect cattle, especially important during birthing.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.