I groan as I turn off the alarm. It takes me a few seconds to remember why it is set for 3:45 a.m. I crawl out of bed and head for the shower. Another day of bird banding experience… Don’t want to be late. Somehow I manage to check the radar, make a thermos of coffee, and eat a bowl of cereal before heading out. Despite having to stop for gas along the way, I make it to the banding station two minutes before Tom and Jordan. As we head out to open the nets they explain why today will be a busy day: several families will attend to observe and participate. (Click here for Tom’s post about the day.)
These two guys goof around a lot, but they are both great teachers. Even though there were a lot of people today, I got quite a bit of experience handling birds and am feeling much more confident.
Of all the birds we banded today, I find the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to be the most interesting. Ironically, I didn’t handle this bird at all. Hee hee.
Long before I had read a word about this member of the Woodpecker family, I observed it in action at Girl Scout Camp over the course of several summers. There are two White Birch trees outside Bellinger Lodge where the girls wait to enter the dining hall at mealtimes. Both of these trees are riddled with holes… holes made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Sapsuckers get their name from their habit of drilling sap wells and licking the sap that flows from them. One summer, I watched a pair fly back and forth from these two birch trees to another behind the lodge – near where the trading post is now located. It took a little patience, but eventually I discovered the nest in a much larger hole in the trunk of that tree. When I listened carefully, I could hear the babies peeping a greeting when the parents entered the cavity.
A few years later, I took my education staff to Timbercrest for a working retreat. We worked under another tree that sported Sapsucker holes and watched several species take advantage of the running sap. Small insects buzzed around the hole, as did hornets. What fascinated us most, though, were the hummingbirds. (Were they eating the insects, sucking the sap, or both?)
Last Christmas, I received Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Trees in my Forest. He has a fascinating chapter entitled “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi” that describes in more detail what I had been observing over the years. He introduces the chapter with this familiar quote from John Muir:
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
This is particularly true of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which is referred to by both Heinrich and the Cornell All About Birds website as a “keystone species,” a species which, like the keystone that holds a stone arch in place, plays an essential role for the overall ecosystem in which it lives. Not only does it provide food for insects and hummingbirds, it’s abandoned cavities provide nest sites for smaller birds such as chickadees and tree swallows.
I could go on and on. But instead – just click on the Cornell link below for more details!
Bernd Heinrich, The Trees in My Forest, chapter entitled “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi”
Hmm… That was quite the tangent… You just never know where a post is going until you start typing… I’ll have to tell more bird banding stories in future posts, I guess…