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Daddys Bedtime Story Images (1)

Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories had some broken links because of a change in Gutenburg’s policy. They do not want links to their articles and photos. Long story short, I fixed them and now they should be okay. I also added photo links since I had to redo all of them. Here are the stories so far. I realized there are many stories yet to be told yet. Stay tuned!

(If you should find any broken links, please leave a comment on that story so it can be fixed. Thanks.)

These are the ones available for reading:

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Links:

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) ©©Flickr

 

 

  Bird Tales

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Daddy’s Bedtime Bird Stories

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Sparrow (Passer Hispaniolensis) female ©WikiC

  

 

 

  Wordless Birds

 

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Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

IX

A RED-HEADED COUSIN

Besides his half-brothers, the narrow-fronted and ant-eating woodpeckers, the Carpenter has a numerous family of cousins,—the red-headed, the red-bellied, the golden-fronted, the Gila, and the Lewis’s woodpeckers. These all belong to one genus, and are much alike in structure, though totally different in color. Most of them are Western or Southwestern birds, but one is found in nearly all parts of the United States lying between the Hudson River and the Rocky Mountains, and is the most abundant woodpecker of the middle West. This well-known cousin is the red-headed woodpecker, the tricolored beauty that sits on fence-posts and telegraph poles, and sallies out, a blaze of white, steel-blue, and scarlet, a gorgeous spectacle, whenever an insect flits by. He is the one that raps so merrily on your tin roofs when he feels musical.

So named from being found along the Gila River.

In many ways the red-head, as he is familiarly called, is like his carpenter cousin. Both indulge in long-continued drumming; both catch flies expertly on the wing; and both have the curious habit of laying up stores of food for future use. The Californian woodpecker not only stores acorns, but insect food as well. But though the Carpenter’s habits have long been known, it is a comparatively short time since the red-head was first detected laying up winter supplies.

The first to report this habit of the red-head was a gentleman in South Dakota, who one spring noticed that they were eating young grasshoppers. At that season he supposed that all the insects of the year previous would be dead or torpid, and certainly full-grown, while those of the coming summer would be still in the egg. Where could the bird find half-grown grasshoppers? Being interested to explain this, he watched the red-heads until he saw that one went frequently to a post, and appeared to get something out of a crevice in its side. In that post he found nearly a hundred grasshoppers, still alive, but wedged in so tightly they could not escape. He also found other hiding-places all full of grasshoppers, and discovered that the woodpeckers lived upon these stores nearly all winter.

But it is not grasshoppers only that the red-head hoards, though he is very fond of them. In some parts of the country it is easier to find nuts than to find grasshoppers, and they are much less perishable food. The red-head is very fond of both acorns and beechnuts. Probably he eats chestnuts also. Who knows how many kinds of nuts the red-head eats? You might easily determine not only what he will eat, but what he prefers, if a red-headed woodpecker lives near you. Lay out different kinds of nuts on different days, putting them on a shed roof, or in some place where squirrels and blue jays would not be likely to dare to steal them, and see whether he takes all the kinds you offer. Then lay out mixed nuts and notice which ones he carries off first. If he takes all of one kind before he takes any of the others, we may be sure that he has discovered his favorite nut. Such little experiments furnish just the information which scientific men are glad to get.

Red-headed Cousin

It is well known that the red-head is very fond of beechnuts. Every other year we expect a full crop of nuts, and close observation shows that the red-heads come to the North in much larger numbers and stay much later on these years of plenty than on the years of scanty crops. Lately it has been discovered that they not only eat beechnuts all the fall, but store them up for winter use. This time the observation was made in Indiana. There, when the nuts were abundant, the red-heads were seen busily carrying them off. Their accumulations were found in all sorts of places: cavities in old tree-trunks contained nuts by the handful; knot-holes, cracks, crevices, seams in the barns were filled full of nuts. Nuts were tucked into the cracks in fence-posts; they were driven into railroad ties; they were pounded in between the shingles on the roofs; if a board was sprung out, the space behind it was filled with nuts, and bark or wood was often brought to cover over the gathered store. No doubt children often found these hiding-places and ate the nuts, thinking they were robbing some squirrel’s hoard.

In the South, where the beech-tree is replaced by the oak, the red-heads eat acorns. I should like to know whether they store acorns as they do beechnuts. Are chestnuts ever laid up for winter? How far south is the habit kept up? Is it observed beyond the limits of a regular and considerable snowfall? That is, do the birds lay up their nuts in order to keep them out of the snow, or for some other reason?

It remains to be discovered if other woodpeckers have hoarding-places. We know that the sapsucker eats beechnuts, and the downy and the hairy woodpeckers also; that the red-bellied woodpecker and the golden-winged flicker eat acorns; and I have seen the downy woodpecker eating chestnuts, or the grubs in them, hanging head downward at the very tip of the branches like a chickadee. It may be possible that some of these lay up winter stores.

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This is Chapter XI from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.


Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©Bing

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©Bing

Lee’s Addition:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18 KJV)

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:2-3 KJV)

The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), which belongs to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family, is a small or medium-sized woodpecker from temperate North America. Their breeding habitat is open country across southern Canada and the eastern-central United States.

The Red-headed Woodpecker was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae. The specific epithet is derived from the Ancient Greek words erythros ‘red’ and kephalos ‘head’.

Adults are strikingly tri-colored, with a black back and tail and a red head and neck. Their underparts are mainly white. The wings are black with white secondary remiges. Adult males and females are identical in plumage. Juveniles have very similar markings, but have an all grey head.

These birds fly to catch insects in the air or on the ground, forage on trees or gather and store nuts. They are omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, and occasionally even the eggs of other birds. About two-thirds of their diet is made up of plants. They nest in a cavity in a dead tree, utility pole, or a dead part of a tree. They lay 4 to 7 eggs in early May which are incubated for two weeks. Two broods can be raised in a single nesting season. (Wikipedia with editing)

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Interesting Bird Facts about the Red-headed Woodpecker

  • It has the greatest G-force (acceleration due to gravity): beak of red-headed woodpecker hitting bark at 20.9 km/h (13 mph). (Internet)
  • The Red-headed Woodpecker has many nicknames, including half-a-shirt, shirt-tail bird, jellycoat, flag bird, and the flying checker-board. (All About Birds)

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VIII

EL CARPINTERO

In California and along the southwestern boundary of the United States lives a woodpecker known among the Mexicans as El Carpintero, the Carpenter.

Carpentering is both his profession and his pastime, and he seems really to enjoy the work. When there is nothing more pressing to be done, he spends his time tinkering around, fitting acorns into holes in such great numbers and in so workmanlike a fashion that we do not know which is more remarkable, his patience or his skill. Every acorn is fitted into a separate hole made purposely for it, every one is placed butt end out and is driven in flush with the surface, so that a much frequented tree often appears as if studded with ornamental nails. “What an industrious bird!” we exclaim; but still it takes some time to appreciate how enormous is the labor of the Carpenter. Whole trees will sometimes be covered with his work, until a single tree has thousands of acorns bedded into its bark so neatly and tightly that no other creature can remove them.

Work of Californian Woodpecker.

Work of Californian Woodpecker.

We may take for examination, from specimens of the Carpenter’s work, a piece of spruce bark seven inches long by six wide, containing ten acorns and two empty holes. As spruce bark is so much harder and rougher than the pine bark in which he usually stores his nuts, this specimen looks rough and unfinished, and even shows some acorns driven in sidewise; but for another reason I have preferred it to better-looking examples of his work for study. As we shall see later, it gives us a definite bit of information about the bird.

They often use white-oak bark, fence-posts, telegraph poles, even the stalks of century-plants, when trees are not convenient. (Merriam, Auk, viii. 117.)

Think of the work of digging these twelve holes. Think of the labor of carrying these ten large acorns and driving them in so tightly that after years of shrinking they cannot be removed by a knife without injuring either the acorn or the bark. Yet how small a part of the woodpecker’s year’s work is here! How long could he live on ten acorns? How many must he gather for his winter’s needs? How many must he lose by forgetting to come back to them? We cannot calculate the work a single bird does nor the nuts he eats, for several birds usually work in company and may use the same tree; but all the woodpeckers are large eaters, and the Californian has been singled out for special mention.

Can we estimate the amount of work required to lay up one day’s food? Judging by the amount of nuts some other birds will eat, I should think that all ten acorns contained in this piece of bark could be eaten in one day without surfeit. The estimate seems to me well inside of his probable appetite. I have experimented on this piece of bark, using a woodpecker’s bill for a tool, and it takes me twenty minutes to dig a hole as large but not as neat as these. Doubtless it would not take the woodpecker as long; but at my rate of working, four hours were spent in digging these twelve holes. Then each acorn had to be hunted up and brought to the hole prepared for it. This entailed a journey, it may have been only from one tree to another, or it may have been, and very likely was, a considerable flight. For these acorns grew on oak-trees, and we find them driven into the bark of pines and spruces.

The Woodpeckers

This it is which gives our specimen its particular interest. While oaks and pines may be intermingled, though they naturally prefer different soils and situations, and in the Rocky Mountains the pine-belt lies above the oak region, spruce and oak trees do not grow in the same soil. The spruce-belt stands higher up than the pine. As these nuts are stored in the bark of a spruce-tree, we have clear evidence that the bird must have carried them some distance. For every nut he made the whole journey back and forth, since he could carry but one at a time,—ten long trips back and forth, certainly consuming several minutes each.

Then each acorn had to be fitted to its hole. We have already spoken of the accuracy with which this is done, so that the Carpenter’s work is a standing taunt to the hungry jays and squirrels which would gladly eat his nuts if they could get them. A careful observer tells us that when the hole is too small, the woodpecker takes the acorn out and makes the hole a little larger, working so cautiously, however, that he sometimes makes several trials before the acorn can be fitted and driven in flush with the bark. Some of these acorns show cracks down the sides, as if they had been split either in forcibly pulling them out of a hole not deep enough for them, or in driving them when green and soft into a hole too small for them. Of course after each trial the acorn must be hunted up where it lies on the ground and driven in again, and this takes considerable time.

As nearly as we can estimate it, not less than half a day must have been spent in putting these acorns where we find them. With smaller acorns, stored in pine bark, less time would have been required; but weeks, if not months, of work are spent in laying up the winter’s stores.

How the woodpecker’s back and jaws must have ached! Surely he is human enough to get tired with his work, and it is not play to do what this bird has done. Some of the acorns measure seven tenths of an inch in diameter by nine tenths in length, and the bird that carried them is smaller than a robin. How he must have hurried to reach his tree when the acorn was extra large! Yet he took time to drive every one in point foremost. Even those that lie upon their sides must have been forced into position by tapping the butt. He knows very well which end of an acorn is which, does our Carpenter.

But what is the use of all this work? Why, if he wants acorns, does he not eat them as they lie scattered under the oaks, instead of taking pains to carry them away and put them into holes for the fun of eating them out of the holes afterward? The absurdity of this has led some people to surmise that the Carpenter chooses none but weevilly acorns, and stores them that the grub inside may grow large and fat and delicious. This would be very interesting, if it were true. There must of course be more weevilly acorns on the ground than he picks up, so that he could get as many grubs without taking all this trouble, and there is no reason why they should not be as large and good as those hatched out in holes in trees. When I wish to keep nuts sweet, I spread them out on the attic floor in the sun and air, keeping them where they will not touch each other. The Carpenter does practically the same thing. Is it probable that he tries to raise a fine crop of grubs in this way? If so, one or the other of us is doing just the wrong thing. But if weevils are what the Carpenter wants, then the nuts in the bark should be wormy; yet only two of them show any sign of a weevil, and of these one appears from its dull color and weather-beaten look to be a nut deposited several years before the others by some other woodpecker. Every other acorn is as hard, shining, and bright colored as when it fell from the tree. Evidently the bird picked these nuts up while they were fresh and good; perhaps he chose them because they were good and fresh. The possibility becomes almost a certainty when we observe that naturalists agree that the Carpenter uses no acorns but the sweet-tasting species. Now there are likely to be as many grubs in one kind of an acorn as in another, and he would scarcely refuse any kind that contained them, if grubs were what he wanted. The fact that he takes sweet acorns, and those only, shows that it is the meat of the nut that he wants. And all good naturalists agree that it is the kernel itself that he eats.

Why he stores them is not hard to decide when we remember that the Californian woodpecker, over a large part of his range, is a mountain bird. Though we think of California as the land of sunshine, it is not universal summer there. The mountain ranges have a winter as severe as that of New England, with a heavy snowfall. When the snow lies several feet deep among the pines and spruces of the uplands, the Carpenter is not distressed for food: his pantry is always above the level of the snow; he need neither scratch a meagre living from the edges of the snow-banks, nor go fasting. His fall’s work has provided him not only with the necessities, but with the luxuries of life.

But why does he spend so much time in making holes? He might tuck his nuts into some natural crevice in the oak bark, or drop them into cavities which all birds know so well where to find. And leave them where any pilfering jay would be able to pick them out at his ease? Or put them in the track of every wandering squirrel? Jays and squirrels are never too honest to refuse to steal, but they find it harder to get the woodpecker’s stores out of his pine-tree pantry than to pick up honest acorns of their own. So, like the woodpecker, they lay up their own stores of nuts, and feed on them in winter, or go hungry.

We have had very little aid from anything except the piece of bark we were studying, yet we have learned that the Californian woodpecker is a good carpenter; that he works hard at his trade; that he shows remarkable foresight in collecting his food, much ingenuity in housing it, good judgment in putting it where his enemies cannot get it, and wisdom in the plan he has adopted to give him a good supply of fresh nuts at a season when the autumn’s crop is buried under the deep snow.

If I were a Californian boy, I think I should spend my time in trying to find out more about this wise woodpecker, concerning which much remains to be discovered.

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This is Chapter VIII from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.


Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) Female ©WikiC

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) Female ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame. (Proverbs 10:5 NKJV)

The bird mentioned in this article is actually the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus bairdi). The subspecies, named “bairdi” is the “El Carpintero.” It has just a slight difference in coloration, but is still an Acorn Woodpecker.

Click this link to see a video of the “bairdi” subspecies.

It appears that the Lord has given this Woodpecker some very good work ethics.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

VII

PERSONA NON GRATA

We shall not attempt to deny that Downy has an unprincipled relative. While it is no discredit, it is a great misfortune to Downy, who is often murdered merely because he looks a little, a very little, like this disreputable cousin of his. The real offender is the sapsucker, that musical genius of whom we have already spoken.

The popular belief is that every woodpecker is a sapsucker, and that every hole he digs in a tree is an injury to the tree. We have seen that every hole Downy digs is a benefit, and now we wish to learn why it is that the sapsucker’s work is any more injurious than other woodpeckers’ holes; how we are to recognize the sapsucker’s work; and how much damage he does. We will do what the scientists often do,—examine the bird’s work and make it tell us the story. There is no danger of hurting the sapsucker’s reputation. The farmer could have no worse opinion of him; and, though the case has been appealed to the higher courts of science more than once,[34] where the sapsucker’s cause has been eloquently and ably defended, the verdict has gone against him. Scientists now do not deny that the sapsucker does harm. But his worst injury is less in the damage he does to the trees than in the ill-will and suspicion he creates against woodpeckers which do no harm at all. If you will study the picture and the descriptions in the Key to the Woodpeckers, you will be able to recognize the sapsucker and his nearest relatives, whether in the East or in the West. But all sapsuckers may be known by their pale yellowish under parts, and by the work they leave behind. As the yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only one found east of the Rocky Mountains, we shall speak only of him and his work.


Work of Sapsucker.

Work of Sapsucker.

Here is a specimen of the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s work which I picked up under the tree from which it had fallen. We do not need to inquire whether the tree was injured by its falling, for we know that the loss of sound and healthy bark is always a damage. Was this sound bark? Yes, because it is still firm and new. The sap in it dried quickly, showing that neither disease nor worms caused it to fall; it is clean and hard on the back, showing that it came from a live tree, not from a dead, rotting log.

Yellow Bellied Woodpecker

Yellow Bellied Woodpecker

How do I know that a bird caused it to fall? The marks are precisely such as are always left by a woodpecker’s bill. How do I know that it was a sapsucker’s work? Because no other woodpecker has the habit which characterizes the sapsucker, of sinking holes in straight lines. The sapsuckers drill lines of holes sometimes around and sometimes up and down the tree-trunk, but almost always in rings or belts about the trunk or branches. A girdle may be but a single line of holes, or it may consist of four or five, or more, lines. Sometimes a band will be two feet wide; and as many as eight hundred holes have been counted on the trunk of a single tree. Such extensive peckings, however, are to be expected only on large forest trees. Most fruit and ornamental trees are girdled a few times about the trunk, and about the principal branches just below the nodes, or forks.

Why did the bird dig these holes? There are three things that he might have obtained,—sap, the inner bark, and boring larvæ. Some naturalists have suggested a fourth as possible,—the insects that would be attracted by the sap.

We will see what the piece of bark tells us. It is four and a half inches long, by an inch and a half wide, and its area of six and three fourths square inches has forty-four punctures. Does this look as if the bird were digging grubs? Do borers live in such straight little streets? The number and arrangement of the holes show that he was not seeking borers, while the naturalists tell us that he never eats a borer unless by accident. What did he get? Undoubtedly he pecked away some of the inner bark. All these holes are much larger on the back side of the specimen than on the outer surface. While the damp inner bark would shrink a little on exposure to the air, we know that it could not shrink as much as this; and investigation has shown that the sapsucker feeds largely on just such food, for it has been found in his stomach. Two other possible food-substances remain,—sap and insects. We know that the sapsucker eats many insects, but it is impossible to prove that he intended these holes for insect lures. Sap he might have gotten from them, if he wished it. We know that the white birch is full of excellent sap, from which can be made a birch candy, somewhat bitter, but nearly as good as horehound candy. The rock and red maples and the white canoe birch are the only trees in our Northern forests from which we make candy. A strong probability that our bird wanted sap is indicated by the arrangement of the holes. Usually he drills his holes in rings around the tree-trunk, but in this instance his longest lines of holes are vertical. If our sapsucker was drilling for sap, he arranged his holes so that it would almost run into his mouth, lazy bird!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) Holes in a dying Birch ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) Holes in a dying Birch ©WikiC

Our piece of bark has taught us:—

  • That the sapsucker injured this tree.
  • That he was not after grubs.
  • That he got, and undoubtedly ate, the soft inner bark of the tree.
  • That he got, and may have drunk, the sap.

We could not infer any more from a single instance, but the naturalists assure us that the bird is in the habit of injuring trees, that he never eats grubs intentionally, and that he eats too much bark for it to be regarded as taken accidentally with other food. About the sap they cannot be so sure, as it digests very quickly. There remain two points to prove: whether the sapsucker drills his holes for the sake of the sap, or for insects attracted by the sap, provided that he eats anything but the inner bark.

Our little specimen can tell us no more, but two mountain ash trees which were intimate acquaintances of mine from childhood can go on with the story. Do not be surprised that I speak of them as friends; the naturalist who does not make friends of the creatures and plants about will hear few stories from them. These trees would not tell this tale to any one but an intimate acquaintance. Let us hear what they have to say about the sapsucker.

There are in the garden of my old home two mountain ash trees, thirty-six years of age, each having grown from a sprout that sprang up beside an older tree cut down in 1863. They stand not more than two rods apart; have the same soil, the same amount of sun and rain, the same exposure to wind, and equal care. During all the years of my childhood one was a perfectly healthy tree, full of fruit in its season, while the other bore only scanty crops, and was always troubled with cracked and scaling bark. To-day the unhealthy tree is more vigorous than ever before, while its formerly stalwart brother stands a mere wreck of its former life and beauty. What should be the cause of such a remarkable change when all conditions of growth have remained the same?

I admit that there is some internal difference in the trees, for all the birds tell me of it. One has always borne larger and more abundant fruit than the other, but this is no reason why the birds should strip all the berries from that tree before eating any from the other. When we know that the favorite tree stands directly in front of the windows of a much-used room and overhangs a frequented garden path, the preference becomes more marked. But robins, grosbeaks, purple finches, and the whole berry-eating tribe agree to choose one and neglect the other, and even the spring migrants will leave the gay red tassels of fruit still swinging on one tree, to scratch over the leaves and eat the fallen berries that lie beneath the other. My own taste is not keen in choosing between bitter berries, but the birds all agree that there is a decided difference in these trees,—did agree, I should say, for their favorite is the tree that is dying. Evidently this is a question of taste. It is interesting to observe that the sapsucker, which was never seen to touch the fruit of the trees, agrees with the fruit-eating birds. Nearly all his punctures were in the tree now dying. Is there a difference in the taste of the sap? Does the taste of the sap affect the taste of the fruit? Or is it merely a question of quantity? If he comes for sap, he prefers one tree to the other on the score either of better quality or greater quantity.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

We will discuss later whether it is sap that he wishes: all that now concerns us is to note that the internal difference, whatever it is, is in favor of the tree that is dying; while the only external difference appears to be the marks left by the sapsucker. While one tree is sparingly marked by him, the other is tattooed with his punctures, placed in single rings and in belts around trunk and branches beneath every fork. It is a law of reasoning that, when every condition but one is the same and the effects are different, the one exceptional condition is the cause of the difference. If these trees are alike in everything except the work of the sapsucker (the only internal difference apparently offsetting his work in part), what inference do we draw as to the effect of his work?

We presume that he is killing the tree, without as yet knowing how he does it. What is his object? Good observers have stated that he draws a little sap in order to attract flies and wasps; that the sap is not drawn for its own sake, but as a bait for insects. Is this theory true?

The first objection is that it is improbable. The sapsucker is a retiring, woodland bird that would hesitate to come into a town garden a mile away from the nearest woods unless to get something he could not find in the woods. Had he wanted insects, he would have tapped a tree in the woods, or else he would have caught them in his usual flycatching fashion. There must have been something about the mountain ash tree that he craved. As it is a very rare tree in the vicinity of my home, the sapsucker’s only chance to satisfy his longing was by coming to some town garden like our own.

Not only is the theory improbable, but it fails to explain the sapsucker’s actions in this instance. In twenty years he was never seen to catch an insect that was attracted by the sap he drew. This does not deny that he may have caught insects now and then, but it does deny that he set the sap running for a lure. As he was never far away, and was sometimes only four and a half feet by measure from a chamber window, all that he did could be seen. He did not catch insects at his holes. He drank sap and ate bark.

Finally, the theory is not only improbable and inadequate, but in this instance it is impossible. I do not remember seeing a sapsucker in the tree in the spring; if he came in the summer, it must have been at rare intervals; but he was always there in the fall, when the leaves were dropping. At that season the insect hordes had been dispersed by the autumnal frosts, so that we know he did not come for insects.

In the many years during which I watched the sapsuckers—for there were undoubtedly a number of different birds that came, although never more than one at a time—there was such a curious similarity in their actions that it is entirely proper to speak as if the same bird returned year after year. His visits, as I have said, were usually made at the same season. He would come silently and early, with the evident intention of making this an all-day excursion. By eight o’clock he would be seen clinging to a branch and curiously observant of the dining-room window, which at that hour probably excited both his interest and his alarm. Early in the day he showed considerable activity, flitting from limb to limb and sinking a few holes, three or four in a row, usually above the previous upper girdle of the limbs he selected to work upon. After he had tapped several limbs he would sit waiting patiently for the sap to flow, lapping it up quickly when the drop was large enough. At first he would be nervous, taking alarm at noises and wheeling away on his broad wings till his fright was over, when he would steal quietly back to his sap-holes. When not alarmed, his only movement was from one row of holes to another, and he tended them with considerable regularity. As the day wore on he became less excitable, and clung cloddishly to his tree-trunk with ever increasing torpidity, until finally he hung motionless as if intoxicated, tippling in sap, a disheveled, smutty, silent bird, stupefied with drink, with none of that brilliancy of plumage and light-hearted gayety which made him the noisiest and most conspicuous bird of our April woods.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Raymond Barlow

Our mountain ash trees have told us several facts about the sapsucker:—

  • That he did not come to eat insects.
  • That he did come to drink sap, and that he probably ate the inner bark also.
  • That he drank the sap because he liked it, not for some secondary object, as insects.
  • That he could detect difference in the quality or quantity of the sap, which caused him to prefer a particular tree.

That this difference apparently was in the taste of the sap, and that the effects of a day’s drinking of mountain ash sap seemed to indicate some intoxicant or narcotic quality in the sap of that particular tree.

That the effect of his work upon the tree was apparently injurious, as it is the only cause assigned of a healthy tree’s dying before a less healthy one of the same age and species, subject all its life to the same conditions.

So much we have learned about this sapsucker’s habits, and now we should like to know why his work is harmful, and why that of the other woodpeckers is not. It is not because he drinks the sap. All the sap he could eat or waste would not harm the tree, if allowed to run out of a few holes. Think how many gallons the sugar-makers drain out of a single tree without killing the tree. But the sugar-maker takes the sap in the spring, when the crude sap is mounting up in the tree, while the sapsucker does not begin his work till midsummer or autumn, when the tree is sending down its elaborated sap to feed the trunk and make it grow. This accounts for the woodpecker’s digging his pits above the lines of the holes already in the tree. The loss of this elaborated sap is a greater injury than the waste of a far larger quantity of crude sap, so that on the season of the year when the sapsucker digs his holes depends in large measure the amount of damage he does. The injury that he does to the wood itself is trivial. He is not a woodpecker except at time of nesting, and most woodpeckers prefer to build in a dead or dying branch, where their work does no hurt. But we know very well that a tree may be a wreck, riven from top to bottom by lightning, split open to the heart by the tempest, entirely hollow the whole length of its trunk, and yet may flourish and bear fruit. The tree lives in its outer layers. It may be crippled in almost any way, if the bark is left uninjured; but if an inch of bark is cut out entirely around the tree, it will die, for the sap can no longer run up and down to nourish it.

This is the sapsucker’s crime: he girdles the tree,—not at his first coming, nor yet at his second, not with one row of holes, nor yet with two; but finally, after years perhaps, when row after row of punctures, each checking a little the flow of sap, have overlapped and offset each other and narrowed the channels through which it could mount and descend, until the flow is stopped. Then the tree dies. It is not the holes he makes, nor the sap he draws, but the way he places his holes that makes the sapsucker an unwelcome visitor. For an unacceptable individual he is to the farmer,—persona non grata, as kings say of ambassadors who do not please their majesties. What shall we do with him, the only black sheep in all the woodpecker flock? Let him alone, unless we are positively sure that we know him from every other kind of woodpecker. The damage he does is trifling compared with what we should do if we made war upon other woodpeckers for some supposed wrong-doing of the sapsucker.


Lee’s Addition:

The trees of the LORD are full of sap, The cedars of Lebanon which He planted, (Psalms 104:16 NKJV)

This is Chapter VII from The Woodpeckers book. Our writer, Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, wrote this in 1901. There are 16 chapters, plus the Forward, which are about the Woodpecker Family here in America. All the chapters can be found on The Woodpeckers page. I added photos to help enhance the article. In 1901, photography was not like today.

Woodpeckers belong to the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

 

It is quite lenghty, but it is also very interesting. I did not know that the Woodpeckers have a “black sheep in the woodpecker flock.”

I am sure the Lord had a reason why He created the Sapsuckers. Why kill all woodpeckers just to get rid on one “bad” one? That sounds like letting the wheat and tares grow together, so that the good wheat isn’t destroyed by picking the tares.

But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ” (Matthew 13:29-30 NKJV)

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