Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sapsucker, sucking sap

I spent part of this morning - a sunny, beautiful morning! - down at Green Lawn Cemetery on the south side of Columbus. This, Ohio's second largest cemetery at 360 acres, is a place that is near and dear to me, and one in which I have invested a considerable chunk of my life. Some of my first out-of-neighborhood birding forays as a tot were to Green Lawn, and I've made scores of trips since. About two years ago, I finished up a 12-year run as a member of the cemetery's board of trustees. Birders in Columbus take this cemetery seriously, and strive to see its habitats and venerable ancient trees protected. Bernie Master was the first birder representative on the board, followed by me, and I've been replaced by the extremely capable Randy Rogers. The place is looking good, and this morning it was birdy as usual.

The Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, in the above photo (taken in 2011) is a magnificent specimen. The tree is old and gnarled, and resembles a giant bonsai. I always like checking the tree out when I visit; partly just to admire it, and partly for the high probability of seeing Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

The sapsuckers did not disappoint. These interesting woodpeckers have been drilling sap well fields in this tree for as long as I can remember. They don't nest here - sapsuckers are birds of the boreal forest, by and large - and the Green Lawn sapsuckers are migrants and occasional winter residents. This is the only woodpecker in our range that might be considered a Neotropical migrant, at least part of the population. While some birds winter as far north as southern Canada, and the species can be fairly common in parts of Ohio in winter, some birds migrate as far south as Panama. I have seen them in southern Costa Rica on several occasions.

Anyway, when I approached the Scots Pine, a pair of sapsuckers were squabbling over its juice. The gorgeous male in these photos eventually ran the female off, and established primacy over the tree's numerous well fields.

The sapsucker, living up to its name. Pine sap can be seen glistening within the rectangular wells, and the bird was avidly lapping up this nectar (they don't actually "suck" sap; they lap it up with their tongue).

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers use scores of tree and shrub species to "frack" sap, but certain individual plants become favorite feeding stations for some reason or another. The sapsuckers that visit this pine each year in migratory periods or winter either reopen existing well fields, or drill new ones nearby. As the weather warms, insects will increasingly be drawn to the flowing sap, which serves the woodpeckers well. They'll grab those too, dip them in the sap, and enjoy entomological caramel apples.

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1 comment:

Hallie said...

I saw 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in Panama in January a couple years ago. It was interesting as they were a tree away from Acorn Woodpeckers, but at different times of the day.