Monthly Archives: April 2015

What is the Relationship Between Sapsuckers and Hummingbirds?

sapsuckerr-6314You may never have seen or paid attention to a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker but I can bet money that you HAVE seen a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This is the only species of hummingbird on the east coast and the one that visits your feeders or flowers. Do you know what their relationship is with Sapsuckers?

As you likely learned in an earlier post, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a kind of woodpecker that is migratory. They travel south for the winter (smart birds!) and then come warmer weather, head to the northern states and Canada where they will spend the summer and breed. They time their migration to take advantage of the rising sap in the trees, creating row after row of wells in trees with their strong bills. Then, with their sapsuckerr-6330long, brushy tongue, they return regularly to drink the sap and feed on the insects attracted to the sugary liquid–a sugary liquid that is much like flower nectar with sucrose and amino acids.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds also migrate north after a winter spent in Mexico or Central America. They follow about two weeks behind the woodpeckers, arriving in many places before the flowers are blooming. After their long and grueling hundreds-of-miles-migration, they are energy deprived and HUNGRY, in desperate need of some quick nutrients. But the flowers are not blooming yet, sapsuckerr-0311and there aren’t many insects out either so what are they to do? For many species of hummingbirds– including Ruby-throated, Rufous and Broad-tailed hummingbirds, the answer is sap from the wells of Sapsuckers. (There are 4 species of Sapsuckers.)

Scientists have discovered that along with 34 other species of birds, 22 families of insects and even some mammals like bats, red squirrels and porcupines, hummingbirds take advantage of the wells the Sapsuckers have created. Like the other animals, they visit the wells –drinking the sweet liquid AND feeding on the insects attracted to it. For the hummingbirds, this important food source helps them survive until the flowers are in bloom. It is in fact essential to their survival in many places.

But the association between these two birds doesn’t stop there. Scientists studying the habits of the little birds discovered that hummingbirds actually follow the sapsuckers, thus locating the wells and then they guard the wells, chasing away other birds–except the sapsuckers!– wanting to feed on the sap, much as they would a nectar feeder outside of a window in your house. You might wonder what the sapsucker gets out of this as obviously the hummer is raiding its wells. sapsuckerr-But think about the size of the hummingbird–very small, right? And so even if they drink a lot of the sap, the amount is small compared to what a warbler or phoebe might consume. Thus, it seems like the hummingbirds benefit AND the sapsuckers benefit. It’s a win-win for both birds.

A third thing to point out is that hummingbirds often locate their nest close to a sapsucker well so they can continue to feed on the sap for as long as possible. Eventually the wells will stop running as the tree produces a “scab” over the wound. That’s okay because by then, the flowers will be blooming and the birds will have plenty of other sources of food.

What an amazing world we live in! So many relationships in nature that we never consider.sapsuckerr-0819

Click HERE or HERE to read more about the relationship between yellow bellied sapsuckers and ruby-throated hummingbirds. Click HERE to learn more about feeding hummingbirds.

Quote of the Week #17

yardd-1000383 I recently took a road trip three hours east to High Point, NC to attend a wedding. Have you ever been in an unfamiliar place? Ever been driving along, on unfamiliar roads, maybe going slower than the speed limit as you approach an intersection, trying to decide which way to turn?

The road through downtown High Point was deserted as we crawled along, trying to identify where we were and more importantly, where we wanted to go. Just as we decided to turn left a giant pickup truck appeared out of nowhere, BANG, smashing violently into the driver’s side of our car, the window shattering loudly and sending glass in every direction. For a minute the world stopped. We struggled to figure out what just happened.

Though shocked and shaking, we were both unhurt, our hearts racing, our minds whirling, our breath ragged, our clothes covered in glass. My husband managed to get out, squeezing through the tiny space between the vehicles, rushing over to check on the other driver but amazingly the driver would not roll down the window, get out of the vehicle or acknowledge him in any way. The truck was completely unblemished, not a scratch or dent on it. The windows were tinted and we could not see in. After repeated attempts to talk, we gave up, waiting for the police officer and then going through the necessary steps following any accident. The other driver never exited the truck but we could hear him questioning and being generally rude to the officer asking the questions.

Eventually we went on our way, as did the pickup truck.

Today we got a call from our insurance company saying the driver and passenger of the other vehicle have claimed the accident left them injured. They are seeking medical compensation. What? We both asked, how could this be? Their truck was undamaged–like a tank! They smashed into us! We were hardly moving.

Hearing this made me angry and I spent the better part of an hour fuming, wondering how people can be so dishonest.yardd-7912

Then I went upstairs, sitting at my deck which is in front of a giant window that overlooks our freshly-dressed trees and yard dotted with yellow flowers and brand-new ferns. Two hummingbirds came to feed at my window feeder. Our cat curled up in the bed on my desk. A brilliant blue sky created a patchwork between dark branches and green leaves. And I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute! I am ruining a perfectly good day for what?” I resolved not let it derail this lovely spring day.

There are all kinds of things everyday that can make us angry, that can change a good day into a bad day. But next time you find yourself angry, you might want to ask, “What’s the point?” And think about this–my quote for the week, and a good bit of advice that seems especially relevant today:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking a poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”  –Buddah


May your day be wonderful!

Weekly Puzzler Answer #57

A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The engineer of these tiny holes that often circle the tree is a bird called a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Yes, I know this sounds like a made-up name but it really is the bird’s name, and actually, if you look at the bird and know its habits, the name is a fitting one, though they don’t actually SUCK sap, they lap or lick it.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are a kind of woodpecker. Unlike many of our other woodpeckers who are permeant residents, sapsuckers are migratory. They live in the eastern United States and Canada, traveling to the southern states for the winter and then in early spring, returning north to their breeding range.

Sapsuckers time their northern migration to the running of the sap. In winter, the trees store their sap in thwoodpecker-3052e roots, but when the temperatures begin to consistently be above freezing and spring is around the bend, the sap moves back up to the branches. The sapsuckers travel north, stopping along the way for days at a time, where they drill wells in trees and feed on the sweet sap that is there as well as the insects that are attracted to the sap. Eventually they move on and the holes in the trees scab over and no longer run with sap.

The wells of sapsuckers benefit many other species of birds–some 35 different ones, including the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Scientists have studied the relationship between the two birds and have discovered some remarkable things–which I will share in a post next week.

For now, check out this sapsucker visiting fresh wells. Or next week’s Puzzler.

Weekly Puzzler #58

woodpecker--2If you’ve ever spent any time by water, be it a stream, river, creek, pond or lake, you’ve probably seen these creatures. Do you know what they are? CLICK HERE to see if you’re right next weekend. Until then have a wonderful dwoodpecker-3067ay!

Here’s another picture:

Awakened at 3AM By Guess Who?

bearnow-So last night I was sleeping peacefully when I gradually became aware of some weird noise coming from the front porch. It sounded like something was moving back and forth, kind-of rhythmically but it was nothing I could explain. As you’ve likely heard me say before, I live in the middle of the woods, on a 5 acre piece of land at the bottom of the mountain. If I walk out my back door I can be in Pisgah National Forest in a few minutes. For those not familiar, this forest consists of more than 500,000 acres! So essentially, my backyard is a rather big and wild place!

Still hearing the unidentifiable sound, I grabbed my robe and walked through the dark to the living room, where I could see out onto the deck that runs around 3 sides of the house. In the dim light I could see a dark shape standing at the edge. I moved to the wall, and flipped the switch for the lights, all 4 of them and saw an empty deck. Now I was fully awake and thinking BEAR.

bearnow-9313I looked again and noticed the hummingbird feeder–one of 5 (3 hanging, 2 suction-cupped to windows, including a 2nd floor window) — was set neatly on the deck, empty of its sweet nectar. Hmmmm, it was looking more and more like bear. So I got the hand-held spotlight and stepped out the door, shining it in all directions but seeing nothing. No sounds either. Where could he have gone and how did he move so quietly?

I walked around to collect the other two hanging feeders, both empty. The one outside the back door, like the one in front, was set neatly on the deck rather than thrown halfway across the yard. I brought them in, turned on more lights, looked around, but still saw nothing. So went to bed.

But I was far from sleepy.

A little while later I heard a noise again, this time seeming to come from the back of the house. Again, I grabbed my robe and made my way through the darkness to the back door. This time I flipped on the light–a giant one that floods the entire deck and half the backyard in light. Wow! Guess what I saw? A big, black bear standing on his hind legs, reaching up to where the hummingbird feeder used to hang. He took up the whole space, nearly hitting the ceiling! Such black fur, so healthy and full-looking! The light didn’t phase him very much, though it did seem to force him into retreat-mode. He clumsily climbed over the deck railing, onto the stone patio and ambled towards the yard. He stopped short and then stood up again by the sunroom windows, then walked off and guess what? He stopped to get a drink from our birdbath! With his thirst now quenched, he sauntered off, swallowed by the darkness.

The backyard--and a previous bear visit.

The backyard–and a previous bear visit.

It is amazing to live in this place where wildlife regularly wanders into our yard. Wow! I enjoy the chance to see things and to learn about the animals who are my neighbors, including bears. It’s an animal most people will have to go to a zoo to see and an animal that provokes great fear in many.

For us this latest encounter does present a dilemma. Every night we bring in our seed feeders for the songbirds. Will we now have to bring in the hummingbird feeders too? I guess if it happens again, we will consider it. At least he was neat about things and didn’t break any of the feeders! I imagine him standing there in the dark, guzzling the sweet liquid, thinking wow, I have to make this one of my regular stops!

Bears are not strangers to our yard

Bears are not strangers to our yard

If you want to read more about black bears, Click HERE. 

Moth Quiz Answers

A Hummingbird moth that is active during the day

A Hummingbird moth that is active during the day

1. All moths are nocturnal

False. Many moths ARE nocturnal, but not all. Some are out during the day–you may have seen them at your flowers–perhaps mistaking them for hummingbirds. There are several species that are called Hummingbird Moths just for this reason! There are also some brightly colored ones that show up at flowers just like butterflies, extending their long proboscis (Pronounced pro- baa- sis) and sipping nectar. Have you seen any?

 2. Some moths will eat holes in your clothing  False.

Moths–if they have any mouthparts at all (some don’t) they have tube-like mouthparts for sipping nectar from flowers. NO ADULT MOTHS eat clothing. Of the thousands of species of moths in the world, a handful will feed on the fibers in clothing. The larvae or caterpillars of these is likely how the myth came to be.

3. There are less moths than butterflies  False

In the world scientists have named 150,000 thousand species of what are called Lepidoptera–these are the butterflies and moths. They estimate that this number might be more like 250,000 – 400,000 as many species have not yet been named or discovered. Of the ones we know of, less than 20,000 are butterflies–making ALL THE REST moths!

So for every butterfly you see, there are 8 moths! There are MANY MORE moths than butterflies.

A beautiful Luna Moth

A beautiful Luna Moth

4. All moths are white or drab-colored

False. While many moths are white and drab-colored, there are many that are very colorful, even beautiful. Some on that list include Luna, Cecropia, Io, Tulip-tree, Promethea, Polyphemus, and many of the day-flying hawk moths.

moth--25. 5. If you touch the wings of a moth or butterfly too much it won’t be able to fly: False.

While it IS true that if you touch a butterfly or moth’s wing, some of the scales will rub off on your fingers, it is not true that the insect will then not be able to fly. Moths and butterflies lose scales all the time, shedding them as they fly, when they rub up against things, etc. You have probably seen examples of butterflies and moths that have really beaten-up-looking wings, sometimes with parts missing. Yet they can still fly. However, handling a butterfly or moth in excess is not a good idea!

How did you do? Want to attract moths to your yard so you can observe them and learn more about them? Then Click HERE. Want to read about a beautiful moth called a Tulip-tree moth? Or, maybe you want to test your skills on another subject? Here are a few more posts about myth busters: Praying Mantis, Spiders, Daddy-long-legs, Halloween Creatures,  Raccoons and Bats.

Moth Quiz–Is What You Know Fact or Fiction?

moth-5938Moths are one of those animals that few people pay any attention to, especially since many of us rarely see them. Here’s a chance for you to test your knowledge about moths…. see if what you “know” is fact or fiction.

True or False

1. All moths are nocturnal

2. Some moths will eat holes in your clothing

3. There are less moths than butterflies

4. Most moths are white or drab-colored

5. If you touch the wings of a moth or butterfly too much it won’t be able to fly

Click HERE to see if your answers are correct! Or click HERE to learn two ways you can attract moths to your yard.