Persona non Grata (Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) – The Woodpeckers

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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See:

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How The Woodpecker Courts His Mate – The Woodpeckers

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) Brevard Zoo by Dan

III

HOW THE WOODPECKER COURTS HIS MATE

Other birds woo their mates with songs, but the woodpecker has no voice for singing. He cannot pour out his soul in melody and tell his love his devotion in music. How do songless birds express their emotions? Some by grotesque actions and oglings, as the horned owl, and some by frantic dances, as the sharp-tailed grouse, woo and win their mates; but the amorous woodpecker, not excepting the flickers, which also woo by gestures, whacks a piece of seasoned timber, and rattles off interminable messages according to the signal code set down for woodpeckers’ love affairs. He is the only instrumental performer among the birds; for the ruffed grouse, though he drums, has no drum.

There is no cheerier spring sound, in our belated Northern season, than the quick, melodious rappings of the sapsucker from some dead ash limb high above the meadow. It is the best performance of its kind: he knows the capabilities of his instrument, and gets out of it all the music there is in it. Most if not all woodpeckers drum occasionally, but drumming is the special accomplishment of the sapsucker. He is easily first. In Maine, where they are abundant, they make the woods in springtime resound with their continual rapping.

Early in April, before the trees are green with leaf, or the willows have lost their silky plumpness, when the early round-leafed yellow violet is cuddling among the brown, dead leaves, I hear the yellow-bellied sapsucker along the borders of the trout stream that winds down between the mountains. The dead branch of an elm-tree is his favorite perch, and there, elevated high above all the lower growth, he sits rolling forth a flood of sound like the tremolo of a great organ. Now he plays staccato,—detached, clear notes; and now, accelerating his time, he dashes through a few bars of impetuous hammerings. The woods re-echo with it; the mountains give it faintly back. Beneath him the ruffed grouse paces back and forth on his favorite mossy log before he raises the palpitating whirr of his drumming. A chickadee digging in a rotten limb pauses to spit out a mouthful of punky wood and the brown Vanessa, edged with yellow, first butterfly of the season, flutters by on rustling wings. So spring arrives in Maine, ushered in by the reveille of the sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) ©WikiC

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Drumming

So ambitious is the sapsucker of the excellence of his performance that no instrument but the best will satisfy him. He is always experimenting, and will change his anvil for another as soon as he discovers one of superior resonance. They say he tries the tin pails of the maple-sugar makers to see if these will not give him a clearer note; that he drums on tin roofs and waterspouts till he loosens the solder and they come tumbling down. But usually he finds nothing so near his liking as a hard-wood branch, dead and barkless, the drier, the harder, the thinner, the finer grained, so much the better for his uses.

Deficient as they are in voice, the woodpeckers do not lack a musical ear. Mr. Burroughs tells us that a downy woodpecker of his acquaintance used to change his key by tapping on a knot an inch or two from his usual drumming place, thereby obtaining a higher note. Alternating between the two places, he gave to his music the charm of greater variety. The woodpeckers very quickly discover the superior conductivity of metals. In parts of the country where woodpeckers are more abundant than good drumming trees, a tin roof proves an almost irresistible attraction. A lightning-rod will sometimes draw them farther than it would an electric bolt; and a telegraph pole, with its tinkling glasses and ringing wires, gives them great satisfaction. If men did not put their singing poles in such public places, their music would be much more popular with the woodpeckers; but even now the birds often venture on the dangerous pastime and hammer you out a concord of sweet sounds from the mellow wood-notes, the clear peal of the glass, and the ringing overtones of the wires.

Northern Flicker cropped by Lee at S. Lk Howard Ntr Pk

Northern Flicker by Lee (cropped)

Northern Flicker calling and drumming

The flicker often telegraphs his love by tapping either on a forest tree or on some loose board of a barn or outhouse; but he has other ways of courting his lady. On fine spring mornings, late in April, I have seen them on a horizontal bough, the lady sitting quietly while her lover tried to win her approval by strange antics. Quite often there are two males displaying their charms in open rivalry, but once I saw them when the field was clear.

If fine clothes made a gentleman, this brave wooer would have been first in all the land: for his golden wings and tail showed their glittering under side as he spread them; his scarlet headdress glowed like fire; his rump was radiantly white, not to speak of the jetty black of his other ornaments and the beautiful ground-colors of his body. He danced before his lady, showing her all these beauties, and perhaps boasting a little of his own good looks, though she was no less beautiful. He spread his wings and tail for her inspection; he bowed, to show his red crescent; he bridled, he stepped forward and back and sidewise with deep bows to his mistress, coaxing her with the mellowest and most enticing co-wee-tucks, which no doubt in his language meant “Oh, promise me,” laughing now and then his jovial wick-a-wick-a-wick-a-wick-a, either in glee or nervousness. It was all so very silly—and so very nice! I wonder how it all came out. Did she promise him? Or did she find a livelier suitor?


Lee’s Addition:

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee at Circle B

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee at Circle B

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:22 ESV)

This is Chapter III 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.

Members of Picidae are typically monogamous. A pair will work together to help build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise their altricial young. However, in most species the male does most of the nest excavation and takes the night shift while incubating the eggs. A nest will usually consist of 2–5 round white eggs. Since these birds are cavity nesters, their eggs do not need to be camouflaged and the white color helps the parents to see them in dim light. The eggs are incubated for about 11–14 days before the chicks are born. It takes about 18–30 days before the young are ready to leave the nest. (Wikipedia with editing)

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Gospel Message

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How To Know A Woodpecker – The Woodpeckers

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) ©USFWS

 


Chapter I

HOW TO KNOW A WOODPECKER

The woodpecker is the easiest of all birds to recognize. Even if entirely new to you, you may readily decide whether a bird is a woodpecker or not.

The woodpecker is always striking and is often gay in color. He is usually noisy, and his note is clear and characteristic. His shape and habits are peculiar, so that whenever you see a bird clinging to the side of a tree “as if he had been thrown at it and stuck,” you may safely call him a woodpecker. Not that all birds which cling to the bark of trees are woodpeckers,—for the chickadees, the crested titmice, the nuthatches, the brown creepers, and a few others like the kinglets and some wrens and wood-warblers more or less habitually climb up and down the tree-trunks; but these do it with a pretty grace wholly unlike the woodpecker’s awkward, cling-fast way of holding on. As the largest of these is smaller than the smallest woodpecker, and as none of them (excepting only the tiny kinglets) ever shows the patch of yellow or scarlet which always marks the head of the male woodpecker, and which sometimes adorns his mate, there is no danger of making mistakes.

Blue Nuthatch (Sitta azurea) by Ian

Blue Nuthatch (Sitta azurea) by Ian

The nuthatches are the only birds likely to be confused with woodpeckers, and these have the peculiar habit of traveling down a tree-trunk with their heads pointing to the ground. A woodpecker never does this; he may move down the trunk of the tree he is working on, but he will do it by hopping backward. A still surer sign of the woodpecker is the way he sits upon his tail, using it to brace him. No other birds except the chimney swift and the little brown creeper ever do this. A sure mark, also, is his feet, which have two toes turned forward and two turned backward. We find this arrangement in no other North American birds except the cuckoos and our one native parroquet. However, there is one small group of woodpeckers which have but three toes, and these are the only North American land-birds that do not have four well-developed toes.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) by Reinier Munguia

In coloration the woodpeckers show a strong family likeness. Except in some young birds, the color is always brilliant and often is gaudy. Usually it shows much clear black and white, with dashes of scarlet or yellow about the head. Sometimes the colors are “solid,” as in the red-headed woodpecker; sometimes they lie in close bars, as in the red-bellied species; sometimes in spots and stripes, as in the downy and hairy; but there is always a contrast, never any blending of hues. The red or yellow is laid on in well-defined patches—square, oblong, or crescentic—upon the crown, the nape, the jaws, or the throat; or else in stripes or streaks down the sides of the head and neck, as in the logcock, or pileated woodpecker.

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee

Pileated Woodpecker by Lee

There is no rule about the color markings of the sexes, as in some families of birds. Usually the female lacks all the bright markings of the male; sometimes, as in the logcock, she has them but in more restricted areas; sometimes, as in the flickers, she has all but one of the male’s color patches; and in a few species, as the red-headed and Lewis’s woodpeckers, the two sexes are precisely alike in color. In the black-breasted woodpecker, sometimes called Williamson’s sapsucker, the male and female are so totally different that they were long described and named as different birds. It sometimes happens that a young female will show the color marks of the male, but will retain them only the first year.

Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) by Judd Patterson

Williamson’s Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) by Judd Patterson

Though the woodpeckers cling to the trunks of trees, they are not exclusively climbing birds. Some kinds, like the flickers, are quite as frequently found on the ground, wading in the grass like meadowlarks. Often we may frighten them from the tangled vines of the frost grape and the branches of wild cherry trees, or from clumps of poison-ivy, whither they come to eat the fruit. The red-headed woodpecker is fond of sitting on fence posts and telegraph poles; and both he and the flicker frequently alight on the roofs of barns and houses and go pecking and pattering over the shingles. The sapsuckers and several other kinds will perch on dead limbs, like a flycatcher, on the watch for insects; the flickers, and more rarely other kinds, will sit crosswise of a limb instead of crouching lengthwise of it, as is the custom with woodpeckers.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) Red-shafted ©WikiC

All these points you will soon learn. You will become familiar with the form, the flight, and the calls of the different woodpeckers; you will learn not only to know them by name, but to understand their characters; they will become your acquaintances, and later on your friends.

This heavy bird, with straight, chisel bill and sharp-pointed tail-feathers; with his short legs and wide, flapping wings, his unmusical but not disagreeable voice, and his heavy, undulating, business-like flight, is distinctly bourgeois, the type of a bird devoted to business and enjoying it. No other bird has so much work to do all the year round, and none performs his task with more energy and sense. The woodpecker makes no aristocratic pretensions, puts on none of the coy graces and affectations of the professional singer; even his gay clothes fit him less jauntily than they would another bird. He is artisan to the backbone,—a plain, hard-working, useful citizen, spending his life in hammering holes in anything that appears to need a hole in it. Yet he is neither morose nor unsocial. There is a vein of humor in him, a large reserve of mirth and jollity. We see little of it except in the spring, and then for a time all the laughter in him bubbles up; he becomes uproarious in his glee, and the melody which he cannot vent in song he works out in the channels of his trade, filling the woodland with loud and harmonious rappings. Above all other birds he is the friend of man, and deserves to have the freedom of the fields.


Lee’s Addition:

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) by J Fenton

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) by J Fenton

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16 KJV)

This is Chapter I 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.

“Most species possess predominantly white, black, brown, green, and red plumage, although many piculets show a certain amount of grey and olive green. In woodpeckers, many species exhibit patches of red and yellow on their heads and bellies, and these bright areas are important in signaling. The dark areas of plumage are often iridescent. Although the sexes of Picidae species tend to look alike, many woodpecker species have more prominent red or yellow head markings in males than in females.”

“Members of the family Picidae have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees and long sticky tongues for extracting food. Woodpecker bills are typically longer, sharper and stronger than the bills of piculets and wrynecks; however their morphology is very similar. The bill’s chisel-like tip is kept sharp by the pecking action in birds that regularly use it on wood. Species of woodpecker and flicker that use their bills in soil or for probing as opposed to regular hammering tend to have longer and more decurved bills. Due to their smaller bill size, many piculets and wrynecks will forage in decaying wood more often than woodpeckers. The long sticky tongues, which possess bristles, aid these birds in grabbing and extracting insects deep within a hole of a tree. It had been reported that the tongue was used to spear grubs, but more detailed studies published in 2004 have shown that the tongue instead wraps around the prey before being pulled out.”

“Woodpeckers, piculets and wrynecks all possess zygodactyl feet. Zygodactyl feet consist of four toes, the first (hallux) and the fourth facing backward and the second and third facing forward. This foot arrangement is good for grasping the limbs and trunks of trees. Members of this family can walk vertically up a tree trunk, which is beneficial for activities such as foraging for food or nest excavation. In addition to the strong claws and feet, woodpeckers have short strong legs. This is typical of birds that regularly forage on trunks. The tails of all woodpeckers except the piculets and wrynecks are stiffened, and when the bird perches on vertical surfaces, the tail and feet work together to support it.” (Wikipedia)

See:

Picidae – Woodpeckers Family

The Woodpeckers by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm

Falling Plates

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Chief Corner Stone’s Keystone

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Chief Corner Stone’s Keystone – By A J Mithra

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Daves BirdingPix

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Daves BirdingPix

Although most non-birders believe that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a fictitious bird created just for the humorous name, in fact it is a widespread species of small woodpecker.
Its habit of making shallow holes in trees to get sap is exploited by other bird species, and the sapsucker can be considered a “keystone” species, one whose existence is vital for the maintenance of a community.
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker frequently uses human-produced materials to help
in its territorial drumming. Street signs and metal chimney flashing amplify the irregular tapping of a territorial sapsucker.
The sapsucker seems to suffer no ill effects of whacking its bill on metal,
and a bird will return to a favorite sign day after day to pound out
its Morse code-like message.

How much effort do we take to share the message of hope to the hopeless?
How many souls do we touch each day?
These birds don’t seem to bother if, others are listening to its message or not…
It still returns each day to pound out its Morse code-like message…
Are we really taking any effort to pound out the message of Love which
JESUS showed on the Cross of Calvary?

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;
but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) by Kent Nickell

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males. These birds migrate to the Southeastern United States, West Indies and Central America, leaving their summer range. This species has occurred as a very rare vagrant to Ireland and Great Britain.

As the name implies, Sapsuckers drill a series of wells in trees and drink the sap that oozes forth. Forages for insects by gleaning, probing, prying, tapping, and fly catching. Drills series of shallow holes in bark of tree, licks up sap.
They breed in young forests and along streams, especially in aspen and birch.
Winters in variety of forests, especially semi open woods…
They are often quite important ecologically for a given habitat, as several other animal species use sapsucker wells for feeding.

Isaac dug well after well, and the herdsmen of Gerar took it from him…
This incident is found in the book of Genesis 26 : 15 to 22 …
Did someone take possession of your blessings?
Just leave it for GOD to intervene and start digging another well..

And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:47)

Early in the spring the sapsucker tests many trees around its selected nesting site by making sample drillings before selecting ones it prefers. These trees, because of quantity or sugar content of the sap, are visited several times a day for the rest of the season and sometimes are used as a food source for several years.

O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him (Psalms 34:8)
How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)

In commercial forests or orchards, favorite feeding trees of the sapsucker are left untreated, so that the birds will concentrate their feeding activities on these favorite trees, which in turn often protects nearby trees from serious injury…

JESUS, the Tree of Life, knew that satan is after us to drill holes of sorrow and holes of hurt, holes of poverty and holes of doubts and suck the life out of us so that we would die of sin than live life eternal..
That is the reason that, JESUS planted HIMSELF beside us on the cross to save us from destruction…

And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. ( 2 Corinthians 5:15)

LORD JESUS….
How great thou art, how great thou art….

Have a blessed day!

Your’s in YESHUA,
A J Mithra

Please visit us at:  Crosstree


Sapsuckers are part of the Picidae – Woodpeckers Family of the Piciformes Order.

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