Trees and Birds Face an Unexpected Adversary in the Energy-Savings Movement

by Gillian Martin

It’s solar systems. From a carbon offset standpoint, they are a clear winner, but when trees block sunlight from hitting solar panels, electricity production is reduced. The result is that trees may have to be pruned significantly or even removed. These photos show an example of five trees that were managed for this purpose. When you see such trees, before pointing an angry finger at a tree care company, do consider that this may have been the objective.

Did you know that legal conflicts sometimes arise between neighbors who cherish their mature trees and those who have newly installed solar panels? Keep this in mind when planning to install solar panels. And take a quick refresher on the benefits of trees. Here’s a link. There are countless services provided by trees that a solar system cannot provide.

In many urban regions in California more trees are removed than planted. Drought and invasive pests are two reasons. But development and our increasing home-size footprint often come at the cost of trees. Bird advocates recognize the ecological benefits of trees and grieve over their loss in ways many cannot understand. Here’s why.

Do you know what a tree means to a bird? Let’s start with its wood structure. Birds recognize trees as scaffolding for nests and as stages for courtship and territorial defense. A healthy tree shields a bird from the elements and protects it from predators. It’s no accident that color and feather-patterning of some birds have evolved to complement how they use trees! But trees are also a Home Depot to birds. Nest-builders find an all-you-want inventory of materials: foliage, twigs, branches, bark, moss and lichen. Trees are outdoor meat and vegetable markets too. You guessed insect prey, didn’t you? But how about nuts, seeds, nectar, fruit, sap and even bast. (Bast is the fibrous material from the phloem of a tree.) All are important to birds. Here’s a surprise. Trees are a substrate for communication. Really! Woodpeckers drum on them to communicate. Why? Woodpeckers cannot sing. And lo and behold, birds clean and sharpen their bills on trees.

But there’s more. Trees are landmarks to birds. They help them find their way, as well as assist in relocating cachets of nuts and seeds. Some trees are convention sites for those that live and roost in flocks or migrate together. And trees are schoolrooms for teaching young how to conceal themselves, and where to forage. And when a tree dies and remains in place, it commences another life and suite of services to wildlife. (You can learn more about that here.)

Not everyone cares about a tree or a bird. Understandably, some are even considered a nuisance. But seen or unseen, appreciated or not, trees, birds and every living organism is a cosmic universe in itself, a long-tested product of Nature and time. One with purposeful design and function. We face many challenges in deciding how best to reduce our carbon footprint. These challenges rest not only on leaders and industries but on each consumer. A full consideration of the benefits and losses is essential. Without doing so, we surrender our responsibility for good stewardship.


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