Monday, April 6, 2009

An infrequent visitor

Saturday was a pleasant day with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 50's. There was a lot of work to do in the garden but distractions kept pulling me away from cutting old flower stalks and replacing mulch.




This little guy visited me last spring on his way farther north. Of course I can't be sure it was the same bird but it's actually a reasonable guess to think my maple tree is a landmark he navigates for every year. I dropped my spade and ran for the camera. For the next hour we played ring around the maple tree. He was just a little shy making it a point to always be on the opposite side of the tree trunk from my camera.

This is a yellow bellied sapsucker. I know, it sounds like a name some cartoon characters use to trade insults. We don't see them often in this area, they just pass through on their way from Panama and Mexico to the forests of far northern US states and Canada. This little woodpecker is considered a keystone bird, one whose existence is vital for other birds in the community. Bats, squirrels, porcupines, and many types of birds including warblers, hummingbirds, nuthatches, and other woodpeckers are among the throngs that will eat sap made available by the sapsuckers. Most of these animals will also eat the many insects that are attracted to the sap as well.

It is thought that ruby-throats, and possibly rufous hummingbirds time their springtime arrival in Canada to coincide with peak sapsucker activity, and that the northern limit of their breeding ranges is determined by the presence of this woodpecker.



The male sapsucker is an idea family man. He selects the breeding territory, chooses the nest site, and does most of the nest cavity excavation. He also shares equally in the incubation of the developing eggs and nestlings (even taking the entire night shift) and does most of the nest cleaning. He actually does the lion’s share of feeding the young. In fact, males are more apt to succeed at single parenting. If one parent dies while young are in the nest, the young are more likely to survive to fledging if raised by the father.

I've read that during migration they seldom stay in any area longer than 48-hours which is a good thing for my poor trees. In reality the holes they drill won't hurt a mature, healthy tree.

Later in the fall when the sapsuckers migrate south again the males and females are very modern. They take separate vacations, the females traveling farther south.


~~~~~~~~~~~~

After my visit with the woodpecker it was time to put away the tools and go inside to watch the Santa Anita Derby. I'm the worst when it comes to picking winners. I always go for the handsome ones and ignore their track records. It was a slow race but the finish was exciting when four horses made a strong run for the wire. My number 3 pick, Pioneer of the Nile, won and my number 1 pick finished dead last;)


(Photo from the Los Angeles Times. Click on the photo for the story.)

48 comments:

tina said...

You got such good pictures of the sapsucker! I have seen many many holes they make on my one and only pine tree out front. I think I've seen the bird only once and knew it was a sapsucker but nothing more about it. Thanks for all the info-especially the part where the holes should not damage my tree. They are cool birds for all the others to rely on them for so much and for the dad to be a good dad. Sorry on your picks but hey, 3 is better than none!

Cameron (Defining Your Home) said...

Wonderful bird photos! I love to see the woodpecker/sap suckers, too.

Cameron

Sweet Repose said...

Good morning Marnie...I'm with ya on pickin' the winners, I always go for the purdy ones too, you know, the losers...oh well!

But I haven't seen any of the yeller bellies yet, but their trails I see all the time, such pretty little guys!

sweet bay said...

Great pictures of the Sapsucker. Great post too. Definitely one of the birds you usually know has been there due to the drill holes rather than seeing in person.

Darla said...

That sounds like a good day. Great photos.

Dog_geek said...

Great pictures and information! We rarely see sapsuckers on their way through, but they are beautiful birds. I was not aware how important they are to toher species, though!

joey said...

Beautiful photos, Marnie (I think it's time for your book to be published)! Hope you didn't wake to all the snow we have here :(

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a handsome dude to have in your garden. We sometimes have them in our garden during migration. Or during winter off and on.

Aren't those horses magnificent? I used to love watching them but since they breed them with such thin legs I can't hardly stand to watch them run fearing they will break a leg. I never pick a winner either.

Barbee' said...

Thank you for all that information. We get the sapsuckers, but I didn't know much about them. Considering how shy they are and how they quickly hitch around the tree to the other side, I am very impressed with the photos you were able to get.

flowergardengirl said...

I got excited reading about the yellow bellied rascal. They could teach our men a thing or two. It is distracting when nature comes along and throws us off schedule for awhile. I too have to drop what I'm doing and observe. I fear they may think they are unwelcome if I don't stop and acknowledge their presence.

You did good picking the horses. At least it's 50/50. lol

walk2write said...

You made the winning choice by putting aside the chores. The bird photos are fantastic. Interesting info about the yella fella. I love to watch horse races but get a little nervous until they're all safely across the finish line.

perennialgardener said...

I've been trying to get a picture of the woodpecker (let alone id) that visits my Pecan tree each spring. No luck yet! :( I even put out suet for him, but the piggy starlings ate it all up.

ramblingwoods.com said...

Hello Marnie..I have never seen one and at first didn't know what it was. But I love a dad who does most of the work....Michelle

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Marnie, yellow bellied sapsucker really does sound like a cartoon insult! I've never seen one, so thanks for sharing the photos. He's an attractive guy! My ex used to bet on college football pools and I generally did better than he did (til the end of the season) just by picking what name or city I liked better! (I'm not into football.)

marmee said...

marnie,
you were able to get some lovely captures of the ybss. i think i need to recruit some of these beauties to show my sons how it is done. what a good example he is. did you enjoy the race? that's what counts right? happy cold april day to you.

Susie said...

He sounds like my kind of man(bird). Too bad the human male species isn't more like him! hehe!

Great pictures Marnie! I've never seen this bird.

Kathleen said...

Marnie, you are always a wealth of information. Have I told you before how much I enjoy your posts? I never leave here empty-handed (so to speak). Having said that, I'd love to see a yellow bellied sap sucker in my yard but never have. You were patient to play the "ring around" game and wait him out. He's such a handsome bird. I did not know he was considered a "keystone" bird ~ I hope you see him coming and going for many years then. Never cut down that maple!! Interesting about what a good parent he is too. I once watched a male Mountain bluebird almost single-handedly raise three young (something happened to the female). So I know it happens. btw, I'm terrible at picking winners at any kind of race!

BeadedTail said...

Your bird photos are always so beautiful! Woodpeckers are one bird that totally mystifies me because drilling into a tree like that is just plain odd to me!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Sufferin' Succotash that's a lovely little guy! I don't think I've ever seen one up close, even though we do have red-headed woodpeckers around here (people call them Flickers). As you can tell, I'm not well versed in birdology, so I always love your posts with their fantastic photos!

Thanks for the info too... I like to learn from the experts!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Tina, the birds don't stay around our areas long enough to do serious damage. A good thing.

Cameron, I enjoy all the woodpeckers too.

Hey Sharon, yes the holes never go away.

That's true SweetBay, if he had been there on a work day I would never have seen him.

Marnie

Sherri said...

Marnie, I love the sapsucker pics-they are really hard to get! Thanks for sharing!!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Darla, it was a nice day.

Dog Geek, I have never seen hummingbirds drinking the sap but I do see bugs which other birds eat.

Hi Joey, we missed most of the snow and just got a dusting. Still every morning when I leave for work the bird baths are frozen solid.

Hi Lisa, I know. I hate those awful wrecks where the horses get injured. It happens too often. A long time ago one of my favorite horses was Tim Tam. He was the favorite to win the Triple Crown that year. He broke his leg coming down the stretch at the Belmont and still finished second (stupid jockey never pulled him up). The good news was they saved his life.

Hi Barbee, it took patience and the photos aren't good but I was glad to get a couple.

Hi Anna, isn't that the truth. Hard to find a guy that takes care of cleaning and raising and feeding the kids.

Hi Walk2Write, there have been a lot of injuries to race horses recently.

PerennialGardener, those darn starlings are eating my suet too. I wouldn't mind so much if they weren't so awful about killing our native birds.

Michelle, I agree, the lady yellow bellies have it pretty good;)

Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Monica I'm not into football either. If I was I'd probably bet on the team with the handsomest quarterback;)

Hi Marmee, LOL, I never had a son but I always said they should be taught to walk with the aid of an upright vacuum cleaner;) I love a race where several horses put on the afterburners right before the finish.

Hi Susie, I know what you mean. Not many like that in any species. Just imagine if women started saying to their husbands, "Why can't you be more like a yellow bellied sapsucker?"

Hi BeadedTail, I know, especially drilling with your head. That can't be comfortable.

Kathleen, thank you. You may not have one of the trees they prefer in your yard. I envy you for being able to get bluebirds. I've never had them.

IVG, they aren't easy to get close too. I agree they are very attractive birds.

Marnie

TC said...

He's a handsome fellow don't you think Ms. Marnie? His anthropomorphic female traits are, unfortunately, not easily transfered to the human male.

Some find it odd that although I was born in Louisville, KY and lived there for the first 16 years of my life, not once did we ever attend The Kentucky Derby.

Nan and =^..^= said...

What a wonderful treat to see a sapsucker! You took some terrific photos of that special bird...

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

You got some great shots there Marnie! I especially like the one looking down on his read cap from above...that's amazing; how did you get that one??!! I don't think I've ever seen one out this way. Of course I've heard the name;-)

My daughter is an equestrian who rides on her college team; she's ridden since the age of about 7. We've owned 2 horses, but are finished with that part now. Of course, the horse races are another topic...but isn't it interesting to see the winners are often not what we expect!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Jan, I've loved horses since...well, since I can remember. I used to raise and show quarter horses. The thoroughbred industry is controversial. More than any other breed, thoroughbreds are exploited for profit. Still if you ignore the human factor and just watch the horses the races are thrilling.
Marnie

Cordwood Cabin said...

You're lucky in meeting your "little visitor" -- lately we've had nothing but cardinals invading the cat food, almost tame when you watch from the windows. Beautiful photos (and I love the snowy banner at the top of the page!)

Connie said...

Great photos of a very pretty bird. And you last photo at the races is amazing....you can just feel the excitemt going on there!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Cordwood Cabin, Can't complain too much when you get lots of beautiful cardinals;)

Hi Connie, the horse race photo isn't mine. I gave credit where due to the LA Times. I don't know how they get that perspective. It looks like they are laying on the track.

Marnie

Patsi (Garden Endeavors) said...

Beautiful sapsucker. So lucky to get those pictures.
So you like to gamble??
Naughty girl. lol

Carla said...

Your Sapsucker pics are wonderful!

I love horses also and like you I like to watch them run...but have mixed feelings about the Thoroughbred industry.

kd said...

Wow, Marnie! What great photos! What perfect timing getting the sapsucker's beak in the truk.

troutbirder said...

My mountain ash takes a beating from these guys once in a while. Now I have a much more favorable attitude toward them now that I know they are doing "community service."

Gail said...

Just the best photos of one of my favorite birds! You've captured him beautifully. Please email me your address, so I can send you PPPP! My email address is on my blog! gail

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Patsi, I never gamble with money;) I'd be very poor if I did because I always pick losers. Nobody can watch a race without at least having a favorite or two.

Hi Carla, yes, the sport of kings is really kind of seedy. Still, the horses are beautiful.

Hi KD, I'm glad I got the photos. He left the next day and hasn't been back.

Hi Troutbirder, your tree has been chosen for a community soup kitchen;)

Hi Gail I'll email you.
Marnie

Balisha said...

Hi Marnie,
We watched that race. My Mom taught me to love horse racing. She always watched the Kentucky Derby. She and Dad went to Arlington a couple of times a year.He used to take her, when she had Alzheimers, for drives in the country to see horses. A horse race can make me tear up...they are so beautiful.We watched a series about jockeys on cable... not long ago. It was interesting.

Rose said...

I've always wondered what a yellow-bellied sapsucker looked like! Thanks for all the information, Marnie; it's amazing to me how birds and butterflies migrate each year, knowing exactly when and where to go. Glad he made it to your place. These are fantastic photos, too!

Your luck in picking winners is similar to mine:)

Meems said...

Hey Marnie,
those are really great shots of the yellow-bellied... and some very interesting information you've shared. Thanks. Glad it was nice enough for you to be out in your garden... all the wildlife can be so distracting right now. I don't mind, it is so fun to see all the activity in the garden!
Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

Kerri said...

You really persevered and good some great photos of this little fellow! Thanks for all that interesting info on him too.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology building is in an area called Sapsucker Woods (in Ithaca, NY). There are lots of woodpeckers to be heard in those woods. I've seen a few sapsuckers here and am hoping one or two will show up soon.
At least your number 3 pick placed first, and that's good :)

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

What amazing pictures you got of that little fellow! I will see them in the late Fall here--into early winter.

I think the lady Sapsucker may have the right idea. LOL!

JulenaJo said...

Wonderful photos! I must investigate what it takes to get pictures like that. My little Canon Powershot is incapable! Thank you for the great close up look at the sapsucker.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Balisha, that's a nice memory about your Mom before she got sick. My Mom used to enjoy the races too.

Hi Rose, they must have little GPS devices wired into their brains.

Hi Kerri, I didn't know Cornell's woods was named for sapsuckers. I used to watch their feeder cam until they took it down. Yes, if I would have bet on #4 to show I would have won a couple dollars;)

Hi MorningGlories, if only we woman knew how sapsucker ladies train their men;)

Marnie

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi JulenaJo, I have a Canon but not that model. I'm not especially fond of my Canon and like the Panasonic way better.

Hi Meems, I'm pretty easily distracted from working;)

Marnie

Mary said...

REally nice sapsucker photos!

hkki said...

beautiful birds, nice photos

Gayle@Mountain Moma said...

I do not know how you get these awesome photos of the birds! Very interesting story, what a wonder you not only saw him, but got a photo.

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