I found a very large branch in my yard. Looking up, I was surprised to see a a bare tree amongst the leafy ones, from which this branch had fallen. Not a tree expert but I'm guessing this one is dead/dying and will eventually damage my house. Based on the photos, can anyone confirm this tree is a goner (I don't know if it's dormant or why it would in May in the southeastern US)? I'd like verification before I call a tree service to have it removed. Is there any way to tell from the photos what disease is affecting this tree? I also would appreciate suggestions for what I should look for in a tree removal service.
The simplest verification is to peel a narrow strip of bark from the trunk (at a point about chest high, say). If you see NO GREEN = DEAD. If, on the other hand you see green, there is still life. If it should turn out that the tree is alive, the wound you've made will regrow. This regrowth will happen much faster by wrapping it right away with plastic film (e.g.,saran, visqueen, a plastic trash bag); leave it in place for a couple of weeks. Of course, it won't matter if it is dead (all brown inside).
With smaller plants or twigs one can usually scrape the bark with a thumbnail or cut it with a pocket knife to see if there is any green cambium beneath the bark, atop the wood.
Another verification is to look for (leaf) buds on the twigs. Buds are dry and fall off easily or are missing altogether is indicative of a dead twig. Twigs all dead indicates a dead branch. Branches all dead indicates a dead tree. Even though you tree isn't one, it is worth noting that leaf buds on species such as Katsura and Cercis (Redbud) can be very difficult to identify when the tree is in winter dormancy. Otherwise, buds are 'obvious' on most North American species.