Wednesday, June 11, 2014
It's a yellow-bellied sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, paradise, and this is probably the most common breeding woodpecker in Presque Isle County. Northern flickers certainly give the sapsuckers a run for the money in the abundance department, and downy, hairy, pileated, red-bellied, and red-headed woodpeckers can all be easily found as well.
Sapsuckers drill and maintain extensive well fields in a variety of trees. Sap flows from the wells, giving the birds a ready source of sugary food. An entire food web is spawned by the sapsucker well fields. A great many insects come to feed at these excavations, and other vertebrates come in to feed on those insects, if not the sap itself.
The wells in this photo are drilled into the phloem tissues of the birch; round sapsucker holes tap the xylem layer. The rewards of such drilling and well field maintenance are great: paper birch, for instance, can have summer sap in the phloem of up to 16% sugar concentrate.
NettieBay Lodge birding and nature forays, I found several active sapsucker nests. The entrance hole is a very neat affair. Nearly perfectly round in the center, the entrance is carefully sculpted with flanged openings on the top and bottom.
This year, we were fortunate indeed to have David Govatski on one of the trips. Dave is a forester from New Hampshire, and a wealth of natural history information. He taught me something about sapsucker nesting that I did not know. Sapsuckers often select aspen trees for nest sites, such as this quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides. That I knew, and always figured the birds chose aspen because it is a soft wood. Yes, but there's more to the story.
Note the fungus projecting from the tree below and slightly right of the cavity. That's the heartwood decay fungus, Fomes igniarius var. populinus. Sapsuckers are especially fond of aspen that have been colonized by this native fungus.
Managers of "sugar bushes" - sugar maple groves managed for syrup production - also know about the sapsucker/Fomes fungus connection. They will often remove fungal-infected aspens from the sugar bush, in an attempt to keep the sapsuckers from inhabiting the area and drilling well fields into their sugar maples.
Learn something new every day.