1/2/21 Lickers and lurkers

Though the winter forest looks bare and uninviting to humans, it’s a haven for avian visitors from the north. Two in particular caught my attention this past week – but it’s doubtful I would noticed them had they not been vocalizing. Both Yellow-bellied sapsuckers and Winter wrens blend very well into their habitat, but also call or sing regularly in winter making them easy to find.

I still remember the first time I put the Sapsucker’s call together with the actual bird. I was very perplexed, since its high-pitched mewing call bears an uncanny resemblance to the sound a young kitten would make, if it were stranded in a tree. The tree the bird was on, no surprise, was a big old Silver maple in my neighbor’s yard. Maple trees are a good place to spot sapsuckers; the Sugar maple below is where I first observed this forest’s recent winter visitor.

It’s one of the oldest maples in the forest, and shelters a large patch of Trout lilies under its broad canopy. When I checked yesterday, it was dripping sap from freshly excavated sapsucker wells. The wells tap only into the phloem layer of the cambium, which conducts the sucrose rich products of photosynthesis.

Though the perpetrator was nowhere in sight, the week before I got this pic of him digging some fresh wells on the same tree. You can observe these wells almost anywhere there are good sap producing trees, like maples, birches or fruit trees. However sapsuckers are not picky, and the four North American species have been documented mining a huge variety of trees.

Sapsuckers don’t suck sap, but rather lick it with their short hairy tongues, which are different from those of other woodpeckers. Insects attracted to the sweets get eaten too. Other animals are also attracted to the sap – there is research showing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds time their spring migration in some regions of Canada to the arrival of Sapsuckers, because of their reliance on the sap from the sapwells.

In contrast to the Yellow bellied sapsucker, the Winter wren may seem like a rather drab, uninteresting bird. It’s also incredibly hard to get a good look at one, lurking as it does in the shadows of heavy brush and rotten logs. In fact these are the best pics I’ve ever gotten of this bird because, wrenlike, it was fussing on top of a Black Locust stump.

A Winter wren happy place

Behaving more like a mouse than a bird, it’s usually busy scrabbling about under and inside of fallen trees and brush. The ground level of this forest is superb Winter wren habitat, with many rotten logs, brush piles and small streams. Consequently, North America’s smallest wren can be quite abundant here in winter.

But my favorite thing about the Winter wren is its song. “In the tangled understory of eastern forests, a tiny ball of energy lets loose with a rich cascade of bubbly notes. This songster is none other than the Winter Wren, shaking as it sings its astoundingly loud song.” The Cornell Lab – All About Birds website.

On recent warm days, at dusk, I’ve been privileged to enjoy this song. Though I never saw the singer, in the waning light I could imagine him perched on a high stump, his throat vibrating and tiny tail cocked up.

9 thoughts on “1/2/21 Lickers and lurkers

  1. Owen C. Hardy

    Great post, Rosemary (as usual)! Makes us want to run right over to the Nature Preserve right now. Would love to hear the song of the Winter Wren. But do you think it might be too muddy right now? (Got to preserve the Preserve!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda Parry

      I love reading your posts, Rosemary. We live in South Louisville not far from Iroquois Park and have our own frequent visiting YB Sapsucker who knows well our old Silver maple in the back yard. I’m sure the tree is as old as the house and part of that subdivision building era of the late 60s, early 70s. Bless its heart for all its ugly spotty yellow leaves, branches, roots and bark that litter the yard. We have had Limbwalkers here once to stabilize some of the unstable limbs caused by cropping of the top by previous owners. We love our tree and the birds (with the exception of starlings) and squirrels that it hosts but we mourn the fact that the inevitable is probably near and removal will come to soon.
      Thank you for sharing your wisdom and observations.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jim Sky

    I have yet to meet a YBS or a winter wren, that I know of but will certainly start looking for them. The nice thing about being a novice bird watcher is almost every bird is a pleasant surprise. Thanks, Rosemary. More than once I have “found” new birds after you have brought them to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. debbie utz

    I walk there weekly and you always give me some focus for my walks. Since I am often with grands I don’t see/hear as much as I would like but we look and listen. Thanks for giving us forest focus!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. shoreacres

    I think now that I might have seen a yellow-bellied sapsucker on a recent trip to the Texas hill country. I was entirely too far away for a decent photo, and the bird was insisting on hanging upside down or behind limbs where I couldn’t get a good look, but when I went over to the Cornell site and listened to the sounds, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. Not every woodpecker with a bit of red is ‘red-headed,’ after all.

    I still laugh when I think about my search for the bird that was singing such a loud, wonderful song. It turned out to be a Carolina wren: another tiny bird with an outsized song!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. oneforestfragment

      I heard two Winter wrens singing this evening right at the gloaming. It’s that kind of song that seems to come from everywhere but nowhere in particular at the same time. High-pitched, rapid notes wandering around the scale, reminds me of the twittering sounds male Woodcocks make during their courtship flight display.

      Liked by 1 person

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