Sherry-Go-Round: My neighbor is a yellow-bellied sapsucker
by Sherry Kughn
I have the good fortune of teaching school on the second story of a building that is adjacent to several trees. One of them, a pecan tree, is a “feeding station” – not for squirrels, as one might think, but for a yellow-bellied sapsucker. He is a black-and-white-spotted woodpecker with red feathers on his head and throat. The term “yellow belly” is a misnomer, as these birds have chests the color of cow butter.

My students and I enjoy watching our sapsucker. He teaches us many things.

First, our sapsucker works hard. He drills for hours at a time on the bark of the pecan tree to create holes that fill with sap. From research, we learn that he has a brush-like tongue, which he uses to lap up the sap and to eat the insects that are attracted to it.

Next, our sapsucker is faithful. He shows up every day to work at his job, possibly flying in when (believe it or not) we are too busy to notice. Also, I suppose he shows up on weekends, unlike us.

Third, our sapsucker is rather artistic. He arranges his holes in evenly-spaced, parallel rows that look like pearl necklaces.

Fourth, our bird does not peck on nearby trees. This is good because all of these holes tend to damage them. He has already damaged his chosen tree, the pecan, although perhaps not to its demise; it appears healthy in spite of the hundreds of rows of holes. Our bird, like other animals in the wild, likely takes only what he must to survive. We humans should strike this same balance regarding the way we treat the environment.

Last, our woodpecker is focused. Other birds visit his tree, but he pays absolutely no attention to them. Thus far, we have seen a crow, a titmouse, a red-naped sapsucker, and various sparrows in the sapsucker’s tree. Five or six brown squirrels scamper around it at any given moment, and our sapsucker also ignores them. Drill, drill, lap, lap, chew, chew – all are acts that make up the life of a sapsucker.

A study of sapsuckers reveals they are good parents. The male and female (we have not yet seen our mother sapsucker) work together to scratch and peck out a cubbyhole for nesting purposes. Supposedly, in building their nests, the mother birds do not work as hard building their nests as the father birds do, as articles state females conserves their energy for creating eggs. I like that arrangement, as not all fathers recognize the energy mothers expend in carrying and delivering their offspring, not to mention rearing them.

This spring, our sapsucker’s mate, like other sapsucker mothers, will likely lay an egg a day for several days. Both parents will take turns sitting on the nest, with the male sapsucker resting on the nest by night and bringing food to his mate by day. (I’m loving these father birds’ helpful attitudes more and more.) When our father bird’s chicks become juveniles, and it is time to teach them to drill, lap and chew, perhaps he will bring one or two of them for us to observe.

My students and I have become attached to our sapsucker, especially when he acts as if he wants to join us in the classroom. On occasion, he has flown to our building and pecked on an attached piece of metal. The sound always produces a smile on the lips of the students, whose heads are, of course, buried in their books and/or computer screens.

I am appreciative of having this room on the second story with its two wide windows. It affords the students the precious opportunity of learning from a teacher much better than me – Mother Nature. Now, I wonder what she could teach us about those NASCAR-paced brown squirrels that zoom around our trees so speedily. I’ll bet their pursuit has something to do with a squirrel’s equivalent to money – pecans.

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© 2013