Beware of widowmakers in your trees

A Widowmaker - A dangerous hanging branch

A widowmaker is a large branch that can fall at any time. They can prove deadly. 

In forestry, a widowmaker or fool killer is a detached or broken limb or tree top. The name indicates that such objects can kill forest workers by falling on them.

After a recent storm, I had a number of very large branches fall in my woods. The cause was most likely either a very high wind gust or a mini tornado was to blame. 

I tried to look for any potentially dangerous branches but didn’t see anything obvious. I was working on a fallen branch that was about 16″ at the base and 30′ long or so. It had  fallen from about 40′. 

As I was working my way through limbing and cutting that trunk, I started to pay attention to a branch next to my workspace. A closer look revealed a branch that was hanging on by a thread. That was about 20′ long and 6″ in diameter at it’s base. If you look at the photo below, I circled the area where it was still attached to the tree. 

The ends of the branch were providing a good deal of support to the hanging limb Had I started to cut those, there is a good chance that it would have fallen. Below is an image where you can see the hanging limb a little better.

A a closeup of the break is shown below. The cell phone photo lacks some detail but you can see that there wasn’t much holding the branch to the tree. 


I attached a length of 1/2″ nylon rope to the branches near the ground with a bowline. The other end was attached to the tractor. There was enough line that I was well clear of any potential danger. 

It didn’t take much to pull the limb down. I was idling in first gear which was enough pressure to separate the branch from the tree. 

Be careful with nylon rope as it stretches and can act as a giant rubber band.

Below is the branch safely on the ground.  The tractor is circled at the top left of the photo. You definitely don’t want something like this falling on you.  And yes, the tree in the background is one of those lousy Norway Maples that suffers from wetwood. That tree has a significant lean and is dangerous. 


ALWAYS look up and check for widowmakers before working or playing under trees.

1 thought on “Beware of widowmakers in your trees”

  1. Pingback: Dropping a tree by pulling it down. - Chris Mendla's Corner

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