Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Several years ago in early spring a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker showed up on the Austrian Pine outside our kitchen window. It stayed about two weeks and spent most of each day on that one tree. Occasionally it would visit White Pines in the yard, but after only a few minutes, it was back to the Austrian Pine. This woodpecker really does eat tree sap, and it makes little holes arrayed in rows and columns. Sometimes the holes are circular, sometimes elliptical, and sometimes rectangular with rounded corners.

Amazingly, for three or four years in a row, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker visited for about two weeks in early spring, showing a strong preference for the same tree. I have no idea whether it was the same bird each year, and only managed to get two photos through the window glass. The tree now exudes large amounts of sap from the holes but still seems healthy and fast-growing.

Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) almost always have horizontal rings of holes. Are they from this bird? I don’t know, but I don’t recall ever seeing this bird on a Tulip Tree. And I happen to enjoy looking at the trunks of Tulip Trees!

When I was a kid there was an episode of the comedy show “Honeymooners” in which Norton got a pair of binoculars. In one scene he looked through them and called out, “Yella-Bellied Sapsucka!” Of course, I understood that to be a made-up name, just for comedy. Years later, avid birder Tim Goff and I were birding and botanizing when Tim called out, "Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker!" so I said something like, “Yeah, right,” knowing it was a joke, but he showed me the crazy thing in his bird book. Huh. It’s actually a real bird!

More recently, a guy told me he had White Pines on his property with little holes in perfect rows and columns on the trunks. He had called his county agent, who informed him (without seeing the trees) that it was a disease and the trees should be destroyed, so he destroyed them! He said the trees were a foot in diameter! Incredible. Granted, there are probably a dozen insects / pathogens that make holes in pine bark, but in perfect rows and columns? Come on.

One final story. I cut some lower limbs off a White Pine in my yard and sap exuded from the scars all summer. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds visited those scars regularly, hovering at each one, making a full circle around the trunk. As far as I could tell they were eating sap. It seems like it would stick the two halves of their beaks together.

Sorry to ramble, but half the fun of exploring and observing is the subsequent telling of stories (even if they are sappy!)


Scott said...

Good stuff, Keith, and nice photos. We saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker this weekend at our Audubon Sanctuary as well. Those horizontal rings of holes on Tulip Tree are from sapsuckers. I also see them all the time. That's too bad about the White Pines that the guy cut down because someone told him they were diseased... those sound like sapsucker holes to me.

Keith said...

Thanks Scott. Regarding Hummingbirds and pine tree sap, maybe they use it to glue the lichens onto their nest.

Weedpicker Cheryl said...

Great post with some very hard-to-get photos!

Some butterflies and moths are known to nectar at those sap wells too.

Too often, people rush to cut down trees which could still be a food source or home for wildlife, even if it was dead.