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Animal Habitats in the Deciduous Forest

written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 2/13/2010

The diverse vegetation and rich soil of the deciduous forest provides habitats for a wide range of different animal species.

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    Overview of the Deciduous Forest

    Deciduous forests are mainly located in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, on the east coast of North America, western and central Europe, and eastern Asia. This climate zone experiences four distinct seasons, with cold winters and hot, humid summers.

    The trees of the deciduous forest are primarily alder, beech, oak, birch, walnut, hickory and maple. Since these trees shed their leaves in the winter, sunlight can penetrate the canopy and reach the ground in early spring, promoting growth of a wide variety of low-growing shrubs and flowers, and creating several layers of vegetation that provide habitats for the animals that live there.

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    The Deciduous Forest Provides Habitats for Many Different Animal Species

    All aspects of the vegetation of the deciduous forest, from the top-most canopy to the forest floor, contribute food and shelter for its animal inhabitants. Foliage, bark, sap, flowers, seeds and nuts provide nutrition for a host of insects, birds and mammals.

    Caterpillars, beetles, flies and other insects abound, feeding on the vegetation. These insects are a critical component of the diet of many species of birds and other insectivores. Bats are insectivores that thrive in the deciduous forest habitat. Migratory insect-eating songbirds flock to the deciduous forest in the spring to breed. Some species of migratory songbirds include vireos, wood warblers, thrush and grosbeaks.

    There are also some species of birds that do not migrate, but make their home in the forest year-round, such as chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays and woodpeckers. The deciduous forest provides habitat and food resources for large birds that dwell on the ground such as turkeys and grouse, as well as several species of owls including screech owls, barred owls, and great horned owls.

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    The Forest Floor is a Rich Habitat for Ground-dwelling Animals

    Since the trees lose their leaves each year, the forest floor has a particularly rich layer of decaying leaf litter and fertile soil, which provides nutrition and shelter for ground-dwelling creatures.

    The forest floor provides habitat for many different species of amphibians such as frogs, toads and salamanders, which find shelter under rocks and fallen logs. Reptiles represented in the deciduous forest include turtles, lizards and numerous species of snakes, such as rat snakes, king snakes, gopher snakes and racers.

    Mammals that live on the forest floor include small rodents such as shrews, voles, mice, chipmunks and squirrels. Some small predators, such as foxes, are common inhabitants of the deciduous forest.

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    Animal Habitats in the Deciduous Forest Change with the Seasons

    The changing seasons cause animal habitats in the deciduous forest to change during the course of the year. Since the trees are bare during the winter months, animals and birds whose habitat is primarily in the foliage must find alternative places to seek shelter. Most species of birds migrate south in the fall when the temperatures begin to drop.

    During the winter when the ground is frozen or covered with snow, many species hibernate. Frogs and other amphibians and reptiles burrow into the ground, or find shelter in caves and hollow logs. Small mammals such as chipmunks and woodchucks also hibernate during the coldest months.

    Streams and creeks swell during the spring due to snowmelt and heavy rainfall, forming pools that become the temporary home to amphibian species such as frogs and salamanders, many of which lay their eggs in water.

    When the trees begin to bloom in the spring and the insects begin to increase in number, the animals and birds return. Aside from the coldest winter months when the trees are bare, animal habitats in the deciduous forest provide abundant food and shelter to countless birds and other species during the spring, summer and fall.

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    Resources

    Woodward, Susan L. Biomes of Earth. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.

    The Temperate Deciduous Forest http://www.marietta.edu/~biol/biomes/tempded.htm