Discarded Trees become Wildlife Habitat
Unloading trees for Poplar Island habitat. Photo by Pete McGowan, USFWS
Unloading discarded trees  used for wildlife habitat. Photo by Pete McGwan, USFWS

Biologists are finding innovative ways to use Christmas trees to provide shelter and nesting areas for much of the Chesapeake's wildlife. After the holiday season, about 250 trees were hauled on boats to Poplar Island, a 1,140-acre reconstructed island in the Chesapeake Bay, about a mile east of Tilghman Island.

Once a haven for wildlife, Poplar Island was eroding away. The Poplar Island Restoration Project, started in 1998, is restoring the island and 1,100 acres of wetland and upland habitat using dredged material from Baltimore’s shipping-channel. Currently, the island is quite flat with marshes but few shrubs or trees.

Taking trees to nesting area. Photo by Pete McGowan, USFWS
Placing trees on Poplar Island. Photo by Pete McGowan, USFWS

Strategically placed Christmas trees will provide both cover and nesting sites for colonial waterbirds such as common terns (Sterna hirundo) and least terns (Sterna antillarum). Debris piles placed in the newly created wetlands will hopefully be utilized by other bird, mammal and amphibian species. In addition, trees screwed into recently placed driftwood stumps will help provide the structure that snowy egrets (Egretta thula), cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and other heron species need for nesting.

American black duck. Photo by Greg Smart.

A target species for the project is the American black duck (Anas rubripes). The black duck is one of North America’s wariest waterfowl. Small islands and isolated marshes are the last stronghold for American black ducks nesting in Chesapeake Bay. Only a few, small, nesting islands remain.

Biologists are monitoring the tree use on Poplar Island wetlands to see what wildlife may nest in the new tree areas. So far, ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) and various egret species have shown a great interest in the trees and biologists expect nest building to begin soon.

Trees, combined with driftwood, make sturdy nesting structures. Photo by Pete McGowan, USFWS.
Trees placed nto a nesting structures. Photo by Petet McGowan, USFS

Free tours of Poplar Island are offered by the Maryland Department of Environment. Visitors can see how the island is being rebuilt as well as hear about the history of Poplar and its future use. To arrange a tour, call MDE’s Chrissy Albanese, environmental specialist and tour coordinator for Poplar Island at 410-770-6503.



Snowy egret. Photo by Gary Stolz. Least tern. Photo by S. Mazlowsky.
Left, Snowy Egret. Photo by Gary Stolz. Right, Least Tern by S. Maslowski.
Navigation button