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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Douglas Fir: A Wildlife Hero

Red-Shafted Flicker
This photo, "Handsome" is copyright (c) 2009 Minette Layne and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

When I decided to get a tattoo of an evergreen, it was obvious which species to get. I was born and raised in Oregon, where the state tree is the Douglas fir. I grew up stomping (respectfully) through forests of the towering giants. This tree is a fantastic reminder of home. As a kid my family called me "Sunshine," which fit perfectly because Douglas firs appreciate the sun. This tree means a lot to me, and I'm not the only one. This tree is somewhat of a wildlife hero.

Myth of the Mouse and the Douglas Fir

Pacific northwest legend has it that long ago there was a great fire. All the forest animals frantically fled, trying to escape the flames. The tiny mice, with their short legs, were unable to outrun the fire. They stopped to ask the trees of the forest for help. The big-leaf maple, red cedar and other trees ignored their plea.

Finally, the giant Douglas fir offered protection. The mice climbed up the fire-resistant bark and scurried into the tree's cones. The mice survived the great fire and still today, you can see the hind legs and tails of mice sticking out from the scales of a Douglas fir cone. 

Douglas Fir Cones
You can see what looks like the hind legs and tails of forest mice (based on the myth) sticking out. This photo, "Douglas-fir Cones" is copyright (c) 2011 Tom Brandt and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Wildlife Benefits of Douglas Firs

Myth or not, these trees provide incredible benefits to wildlife. As we move into winter, keep in mind all those wild Christmas trees out there. Below you'll find just a few of the many reasons to appreciate Douglas firs and other evergreens for supporting wildlife.


Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers eat insects from the tree. The red tree vole, beavers, porcupines and deer eat its needles. Pine white butterfly larvae and several species of moth larvae will also consume the foliage.

Porcupines will eat the sweet inner bark of younger trees in the winter, and bears will eat the inner bark in the spring. Squirrels, chipmunks, siskins and crossbills are among the many species that eat seeds from the cones.

Squirrel Eating Douglas Fir Seeds
A squirrel feeds on the seeds of a Douglas fir cone by peeling off each scale, discarding the scale and removing the seed. This photo, "Squirrel Eating Douglas Fir Seeds" is copyright (c) 2008 grogotte and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Cover & Shelter

Cavity nesting birds, like woodpeckers and owls, and small mammals including and flying squirrels use Douglas firs for homes, shade and shelter.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl in Douglas Fir
A northern saw-whet owl takes shelter in the branches of a Douglas fir. This photo, "Sleepy" is copyright (c) 2013 Andrew Friesen and made available with special permission. All rights reserved. 


Red tree voles obtain their water from the trees by licking moisture off the needles. Absolutely amazing.


The organic matter and tree surface of Douglas firs also support a variety of mosses, lichens and mushrooms that can’t be forgotten!

Douglas Fir Mushrooms
This photo, "Douglas Fir Mushrooms" is courtesy of Alice Poulson, U.S. Forest Service.


-- Dani Tinker, Digital Content Specialist

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