Sapsucker Sap Wells

 

Okay, say that title 5 times without tripping over your tongue.

Sapsuckers do, indeed, suck sap. It’s their main food source, though they also dine on insects, especially ones attracted to sap.

Sap wells are the holes that yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill into live trees. Once you’ve seen sap wells, you can’t mistake the lines of organized holes for anything else.

In the spring sapsuckers drill deep round holes (into the tree’s xylem for the botanically inclined) to catch the sap rising from the roots up to the branches.

Later, after the tree has leafed out, they drill shallow, rectangular holes (into the phloem) to catch the sap being sent down the tree to be stored in the roots.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are frequent visitors to our yard. For years they have dined on the sap from lilac, saskatoon and mountain ash.

This year, for the first time, I caught a sapsucker family feeding on a large aspen.

Search YouTube if you’d like to see these suckers in action. 🙂


Yellow-bellied sapsucker   Sphyrapicus varius
Aspen   Populus tremuloides

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Squirrely

I was walking on moss between the trees. Especially quiet I guess. Suddenly the air exploded — I’d surprised a red squirrel who let off a torrent of verbal abuse.

I stood still and spoke softly. It took a few moments of one-sided conversation but curiousity got the better of the young squirrel. He (or  she?) came closer. And closer.

Finally, figuring I posed no threat, he went back to what he was doing before I’d interrupted. But the “what” puzzled me.

After several minutes I realized he was chewing off all the twigs and sharp branch ends along the fallen spruce, making a path the length of the tree. You need a clear get-away if danger is chasing you.

Clever fellow, that squirrel.


Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus
White spruce   Picea glauca

Pitch Perfect

Hurt happens, even to trees. Bear claws and antlers. Carpenter ants and woodpeckers. Axes, chainsaws, unwary drivers.

But how do you bandage a tree?

Ma Nature’s first aid kit has the answer. It’s the sticky goo that oozes from wounds in the bark. That sticks to your fingers, your jeans, your hair. Your dog.

You might call it sap or pitch. Maybe resin. To a botanist those terms mean different things. Most of us probably just call it pitch.

It does what needs doing — seals the wound and keeps out germs and bugs. As the liquid evaporates it hardens, like honey as it crystallizes.

Take a gander the next time you pass a tree (especially one with needles rather than leaves). Small wound? Large one? Sticky or dry? Old or new? Lots of answers if you pose some questions.

P.S. Sticky fingers? Rubbing alcohol is a good pitch-remover.