Wanted: Sydney's precious woody elders

If you are in Sydney and have, or know of, a large dead tree - we need your help.  

While we make our way through our towns and cities via a network of concrete and bitumen, our birds and other wildlife rely largely on a  connected bushland to survive. The value of vegetation doesn't cease once a plant itself dies and dead trees are a big part of this story. Dead trees are a hot commodity for biodiversity, but are often viewed as an inconvenience, if not a  liability by us. Fallen trees can be nurseries for new trees, and provide important habitat for a suite of mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and fungi that break down nutrients turning trees back into soil. As standing stags, dead trees form essential habitat a wide variety of vertebrates and invertebrates - and provide them with a range of important resources including: 

  • A home - birds, bats, frogs, possums and gliders and reptiles will live in and on these stags 

  • A nursery - the hollow cavities in particular provide a place for some of our favourite creatures like owls and parrots (including some Threatened species) to lay eggs and raise young  

  • A snack - invertebrates, fungi, mosses and lichen will feed upon decaying wood, and so in turn provide food for our wildlife 

  • A safe lookout - stags often give unique vantage points for wildlife, especially raptors to look for prey 

Nest boxes are not a solution that will help all hollow-nesting wildlife and we can't rely on them replace the resources lost with our old trees. There are many species for whom we have not cracked the code of making a suitable nest box, and often nest boxes selectively favour animals that are doing well anyway - with species like Rainbow Lorikeets, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Brushtail Possums monopolising hollows. If you want to build and install a nest box (we have some plans here), but be sure to maintain and monitor them  closely, to make sure they are targeted and doing good things for your birds. 

All of us have a story of tree removal in our own neighbourhoods. Whilst there is a push in some areas to conserve hollow-bearing habitat trees, including dead stags, where possible through careful tree management, concerns over public safety mean that often once a tree is dead or dying, it is removed from the urban landscape. With it often goes an irreplaceable 100+ years of history and ecological service. In fact, recent projections for eastern Australia suggest that without specific targets to retain them, in just 113 years we may lose our large hollow-bearing trees in urban areas altogether! 

Through a generous donation from the Cumberland Bird Observers Club, our Powerful Owl Project will be investigating the characteristics of Sydney's large dead trees as part of a project to understand the dead trees and their importance to our owls. We are looking for dead trees that: 

  • are in Sydney 

  • are at least 85 to 95 cm around at chest height 

  • have at least one hollow/cavity of 40cm or larger at the entrance 

If you have a tree that matches these criteria, or know of one, please contact Beth Mott: beth.mott@birdlife.org.au by 13 March 2021. 


As we value and nurture our own elders for their knowledge and contribution to our lives, we need to recognise that old trees also deserve a portion of that care, as they too help build our future.  

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