Gila Woodpeckers and Saguaro Cactus, Illustrating Neighborliness

Gila Woodpeckers and Saguaro Cactus, Illustrating Neighborliness

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.  (Proverbs 27:10)

 

GilaWoodpecker-SaguaroCactus.NorthMountainVisitorCenter
[Gila Woodpeckers in Saguaro /  photo credit: North Mountain Visitor Center]

Like friends who help each other, the Gila Woodpecker and the Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea giganteus, f/k/a Cereus giganteus)make good neighbors.

A photogenic icon of the hot desert, the Saguaro Cactus,  thrives in America’s arid Southwest – is what ecologists call a “keystone” member of that hot desert community. For example, the Sonoran Desert (which overlaps Arizona, California, and parts of Mexico) hosts the equivalent of “forests” of these jolly green giants, growing amidst other succulents, xerophytic shrubs, and ephemeral flowers.

SaguaroNP-Arizona.JoeParks

[ Saguaro National Park, Arizona, near Tucson   /  photograph by Joe Parks ]

But, looking at Saguaro Cactus from a distance, would you guess that these prickly-spined tree-like columns provide homes for many desert denizens, including a variety of birds? They do!

The Saguaro cactus is in every way a keystone species on the Sonoran Desert’s bajadas [drainage-slope terrains]. Without it, much of the [desert neighborhood’s] richness of species would soon be dramatically reduced. For instance, many of the birds of the bajada either feed or nest (or both) on Saguaros. Gila Woodpeckers, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and Northern (Gilded) Flickers hollow our nest cavities that are later used by American Kestrels, Elf Owls, Western Screech-Owls, Purple Martins, and Brown-crested and Ash-throated flycatchers, as well as various species of bats.

Approximately 30 bird species, most recently the European Starling, have been documented to nest in woodpecker-carved Saguaro cavities. House Finches, Chihuahuan Ravens, Harris’s and Red-tailed hawks, and Great Horned Owls use the tall cactus arms as nest sites. Saguaro blossoms are fed upon by White-winged, Mourning, and Inca doves, Scott’s and Hooded orioles, House Finches, Cactus Wrens, and Curve-billed Thrashers. Sparrows and finches consume the [Saguaro] seeds.

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), pages 279-280.]

Interestingly, the Saguaro Cactus is sometimes helped by its Sonoran Desert “neighbors”, in situations that ecologists call “mutual aid” relationships—with neighbors being neighborly. One example of this “mutual aid” is seen in the behavior of the non-migratory Gila Woodpecker.  (Like a good neighbor, Gila Woodpecker is “there”.)

A Saguaro whose stem is injured is subject to rapid and fatal necrosis from bacterial invasion. However, the site of the injury is an ideal place for a Gila Woodpecker to begin excavating a nest cavity. In doing so, the woodpecker may remove all of the diseased tissue [i.e., bacteria-infected soft tissue], essentially curing the cactus of what might have [become] a fatal bacterial infection.

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), page 280.] Now that’s an appreciative neighbor, giving help when needed, returning good for good!  “For better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.”  (Proverbs 27:10b)

GilaWoodpecker-by-Saguaro.BrianSmall

[Gila Woodpecker approaching Saguaro Cactus, Arizona /  Photo credit: Brian Small]

Lee’s Seven Word Sunday – 6/19/15

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Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) Desert Mus-Tucson

FOR A SHELTER 

FROM STORM AND RAIN

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“And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:6 NKJV)

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) Desert Museum-Tucson

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More Daily Devotionals

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Cactus, Birds and Boots

Gila Woodpecker Hole Desert Mus-Tucson by Lee

Gila Woodpecker Hole Desert Mus-Tucson by Lee

Again, while at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we learned more about the “Cactus Boot.” I was aware that Woodpeckers, especially the local Gila Woodpecker,  make their homes in cactus, especially Saguaro Cactus. I also knew that the cactus, to prevent loss of moisture, seals around the “wound”, a.k.a. nest cavity. Another way the Lord created the plants and birds to survive in the harsh conditions of a desert.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) Desert Mus-Tucson by Lee

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) Desert Mus-Tucson by Lee

One of the docents gave a short lesson about the cactus and the Saguaro boot that was very interesting. First, notice the ribs or pleats on the cactus. These allow the cactus to expand during the rainy times to allow storage of water. Then as the dry seasons arrive, they will contract again. Wise creation design. The Anatomy section of the Cactaceae (cactus family) has a great explanation about this. “A fully hydrated large stem is more than 90 percent water and weighs 80 pounds per foot (120 kg per meter).”

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. … They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God. (Isaiah 35:1-2 NKJV)

Showing the ribs of a dead Saguaro and holes where the Woodpeckers had their boot.

Showing the ribs of a dead Saguaro and holes where the Woodpeckers had their boot.

“Near the center of the stem is a cylinder of 13 to 20 woody ribs running the length of the main stem and branching into the arms. In the upper part of a stem the ribs are separate; as the stem ages the ribs continue to grow and fuse into a latticed cylinder.”

Cactus Boot Lesson

Cactus Boot Lesson

When the Gila Woodpecker and other birds make the nest in the cactus, a hole is created, to the birds preference and then the cactus seals around that area. When they take these cavity nest out of old/dead cactus it looks like a “boot.”

Cactus Boot Desert Mus-Tuscon by Lee

Cactus Boot Desert Mus-Tuscon by Lee

The Gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) is a medium-sized woodpecker of the desert regions of the southwestern United States and western Mexico. In the U.S., they range through southeastern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. (Wiki)

PIC-Pici Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) Desert Mus-Tucson cr(11)

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20 NKJV)

Besides the Saguaros, they also make nest in mesquite trees. Their cavaties in the cacti are later used by other species, even the elf owl. They usually lay 3-5 white eggs.

Here are some photos of the Cactus, Birds and Boots:

Psalms 33:1-8 NKJV
(1) Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful.
(2) Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
(3) Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
(4) For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth.
(5) He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
(6) By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
(7) He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses.
(8) Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

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