Thursday, April 2, 2009

yellow bellied sap sucker ?

woodpecker's holes

This past few days, looking out our north facing window perched on two white cedar tree trunks, I have been watching the most amazing bird. A woodpecker.  After I noticed it was returning to the same tree over and over I took the trouble to wash my window and raise the blind to have a better view. I wanted to photograph this migratory traveler less than ten feet from my desktop. It is a speckled bird with a red patch on it's head and a short pointed beak. I  looked it up knowing it was a woodpecker but not which variety. Two are common in our area that look sort of like this one: the downy woodpecker and the hairy woodpecker. It's markings  are not yet fully developed making the identification more difficult. Yellow bellied sap sucker adolescents keep youthful feathers all through the first winter. Spring is pretty much here now and I think this fellow is mature enough to have partial markings of an adult but the behavior is clearly that of a yellow bellied sap sucker. The Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker is a name common to us cartoon watching adults from the old Bugs Bunny character Yosemite Sam (short angry guy with a big red moustache and a couple of six shooters) who always called Bugs a "yellow bellied sap sucker"intended to belittle him, poor rabbit Sam hated rabbits. It was funny as a kid but now I am sitting looking at a real yellow bellied sap sucker out my window for the fourth day in a row. The behavior I refer to above is that the sap sucker drills series of holes in a a row on a tree to collect sap. They drill and wait for the rich sap to run which they then lap up and they also eat bugs that are attracted to the sap. Other wood peckers don't have this talent to draw the sap out of the tree. The sap sucker doesn't dig deep, only far enough to get to the layer just below the bark where this sap flows down from the leaves to feed other parts of the tree.  I have seen the local squirrels come chase the bird away and lick the sap off the tree trunk too. It must be full of rich nutrients. The article I read on Smithsonian National Zoological Park explains the whole mystery of how they feed themselves on sap and has another gallery of photos which includes babies and fully mature adults, male and female. 

I really enjoy the birds that come to visit us here in the city. The more exotic ones especially inspired me to keep looking more carefully and to use binoculars and a book to help identify which ones were in my area. I was surprised how many there when you bother to look and listen carefully. Sparrows come in many varieties, starlings change colors throughout the year, Crows one of my favorites travel in pairs when they are mature and in flocks or "murders" when they are adolescents before they mate for life. I think people tend to over look birds and many exotic songbirds get get lost in the mix of common city birds. I recall once noticing a blackish bird on the median strip of route 66 one day when I was stuck in rush hour traffic moving inches per hour rather than miles per hour. I saw one that had a brown head but was in a crowd of blackish starlings which do not have  brown heads. I came home straight away and pulled out my bird book and hunted for a brown headed black bird. It was a cow bird and since I know what it looks like now I see them more often. Before these cowbirds were just another starling to my lazy unobservant eye. 

This is a video of the yellow bellied sap sucker on our cedar tree today. Twelve seconds of a bird watching a man in a window. To see it you have to follow this link to the webpage where it is posted on the blog. 

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