Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sphyrapicus ruber--Red-Breasted Sapsucker

I don't know what this tree is, I think the label I found is for another plant. Maybe it is some kind of aspen or alder, because that is the kind of tree that Red-Breasted Sapsuckers prefer to use. The leaves are closer to something in the Betulaceae family than to something in the Leguminosae. Legumes usually have divided leaves. I don't know if this tree is suffering, but it doesn't look happy to me. The leaves are rather sparse, but maybe they will fill in later in the season.

Anyway, the series of regular holes in the bark of this tree are characteristic of RBS damage. They make holes in the bark and eat sap, as their name would imply. The cool thing is, that if you or I made a hole, the sap wouldn't flow. The RBSs seem to have some kind of "anticoagulant" to keep the sap flowing, like mosquitoes have to keep the blood flowing. They make use of the sap, but other animals do also. They have a close association with the Rufous Hummingbird, which also likes to feed on sap. The hummingbird will even follow the sapsucker. Insects like bees and flies will also make use of the sap. The RBS has a hairy tongue that makes it easy to collect sap. It and other birds also eat the insects that come to eat the sap.

The RBS is a black and white woodpecker with a red head. It looks more red-hooded than red-breasted to me although the red hood does come down on the breast a bit. Berkeley is its wintering ground, so I wouldn't expect to see them anytime soon at the UC Botanical Garden. But the holes are there all year for anyone to marvel at. The pattern is so regular!

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