Coniferous Wildlife Of North America


Not to be confused with the meat-eating carnivorous kind of animal, coniferous wildlife can be found among forests of pine, fir, spruce, and other cone-bearing trees and shrubs.

Bats, deer, rabbits, foxes, and squirrels are some of the mammals found in coniferous forests. The American kestrel and goshawk can be found in the canopies, along with crossbills and woodpeckers. There are also many species of insects including ants, beetles, and millipedes.

In this article I wanted to let you know which animals you can find in coniferous forests and why commercial forests are essential for wildlife in North America. First, lets look at what conifers are.

What Are Conifers?

Many of us know conifers from our annual Christmas tree but there are many types of conifer in North America. Many are part of the pine family, which consists of firs, cedars, larch, and spruce, among others.

There are also many members of the Cypress family which includes cedars, redwoods, junipers, and other species. The Gingko, monkey puzzle tree and the umbrella pine do not fit in these two families.

There are more conifer trees in the west of the continent due to the dry weather and soil that isn’t as rich as in the east which is mainly made up of deciduous trees.

Young Forests

Different species of animals prefer different habitats and newly-felled and freshly planted areas are more likely to attract species that are used to open habitats. Animals and birds that prefer grassland, woodland glades, and heath ground can all be found in these areas. As the trees grow and the habitat changes, so do the species of animals they attract.

Flowers, butterflies, and lizards can all thrive within these young coniferous forests, enjoying the sunny conditions. Flowers do grow, although the acidic soil conditions from the pine needles dropping can make this difficult for many types.

The flowers that do grow will soon attract butterflies, beetles, and other insects that are after their nectar. Gorse bushes, sallow, and hawkweed all attract insects, as do brambles, hawthorn, and silver birch.

Older Forests

When the trees start to grow up to three or four meters they gain many branches that soon change the habitat around them. Shade sets in on the ground, and many small bushes and brush will be in shade. These are ideal conditions for many species of animals and insects, with many spiders preferring these conditions to spin their webs and many types of warblers nesting among their branches.

Aphids use the trees but are soon eaten by one of the 450 species of ladybug that live in North America. Although we are used to seeing ladybugs that are red with black dots, the pine ladybug is black with red dots, making it harder to see against the greens and browns of the forest.

Carpenter ants can be found in every part of the forest, moving around from their large, domed nests. Carpenter ants use the needles and other parts of the tree that have fallen down to the ground to help with building and repairing their nests. Carpenter ants can feed on caterpillars which they find in the treetops.

Larger animals can also be found with rabbits, badgers, wolves, lynx, and foxes all using tracks in the forests to get around. You may be able to recognize which animals have been there by the twigs that have been chewed, by their tracks or from their droppings. Many of these animals prefer to live near the outskirts of the forest where they can access other habitats which suit them.

Although the shade provided by a coniferous forest is ideal for a bat, these forests do not give them an ideal nesting or roosting place. The food that they can find there, however, is ideal for them. With many types of moth, gnats and mosquitoes, bats can feed very well in a forest of pine, with many bats coming out during the day to feed before returning to their roost.

Bats can be seen mainly in the evening, swooping down to feed on the midges that accumulate in the windbreaks. Although bats feed on moths, you may be able to find a lot of different species of moth in forests such as the larch pug and the pine beauty moth.

As the needles and dead bark falls to the ground it provides an organic litter to the forest which allows other species to live. Millipedes and fungi thrive in these conditions on the ground.

Birds

Birds of prey can also be seen in coniferous forests. The American kestrel and the goshawk may be found in a forest. These may be found by looking into the canopy when you find feathers or fur on the ground. These birds will feed on squirrels, rabbits, and other birds.

The American kestrel can be found in many small coniferous forests and can be seen circling over its territory with outspread wings, before swooping down to the forest edge to find some food.

Species of crossbill can also be seen eating the seeds from the cones. The crossbill has a beak that is tweezer-shaped, allowing them to get the seeds out of the cones.

Golden-crowned kinglet and coal tits can be heard in the canopy above and flocks of birds such as siskins, chaffinch, and bramblings can also be seen flying among the canopy, enjoying the food from the cones which provide seeds. The branches come alive with the sound of birds including the garden warbler.

Pine Cones For Food

Pine cones grow on the trees and can be found on the ground. Made up of lots of scales, each of these scales contains a small seed. These can either be taken out by a bird or a mammal, but are more likely to drop out when the cone dries up and the scales curl back.

Pine cone

The pine cones are the reason why many animals use coniferous forests as their home. The rich supply of seeds is essential for many species. Great spotter woodpeckers have adopted a mechanism to get the seeds out. Woodpeckers have been seen to lodge the cones into the bark of pine trees. They then hammer away at the cones with their beaks to get to the seeds inside.

Squirrels also like the seeds from pine cones and can be seen devouring the seeds from many cones in one session. Squirrels also use the upper branches to nest, with their drey built out of twigs.

Commercial Forestry

Commercial forestry has allowed fast-growing conifers to grow in many parts of the country, with spruce, pine, and fir being used. These trees are cut down after 50-60 years to provide an excellent, high-quality source of timber.

Although these forests are planted, they are essential for allowing many types of wildlife to live in their natural environment. These man-made forests are usually only made up of one type of tree, which means that the biodiversity, the variety of life in that habitat can be extremely low.

Due to the low diversity, it would seem to be a bad place to find many different species of wildlife but commercial forests change all the time. Commercial forests generally have different areas that are at separate stages. Therefore, one forest could have different areas made up of newly planted areas, areas with small, young trees, as well as trees that are in their later stages.

In managed plantations, the trees will be thinned on occasion. This allows the remaining trees to grow taller and straighter. You may have seen forests that are filled with very tall, straight trees, with no greenery except at the top. The shade from the canopy stops side branches from growing, which break off due to rot.

Not all of a commercial forest is cleared at the same time. While one area may be bare after it has been chopped down, another area is still thriving. This allows many different species of animals to live in separate parts of the coniferous forest.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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