Archived Story

Wiersma: A bird is a marvelous thing

Published 10:47am Tuesday, December 11, 2012

By NANCY WIERSMA

Sunday, while sitting at my dining room table, enjoying a cup of coffee, I noticed a medium-sized bird fly in.

It landed on the homemade suet log feeder George and I have made.

Quickly, my eyes fixated on the bird. Ahh, it was a female yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).

I could tell it was a female by the white throat under its bill.

Upon buying several books by Sally Roth (I enjoy her wit and knowledge) and Donald and Lillian Stokes, I have become more savy on identifying birds.
This bird is new to my area, with it being its second year that I have noticed it in my neighborhood.

It is a quiet, shy bird, nothing like the typical woodpecker. And I must say woodpeckers are my favorites — except for hummingbirds.

There she sat, “hitched” to the bark of the suet feeder. For a moment, she just sat there, making sure the area was safe, then she began to carve/chisel huge chunks of the homemade suet with her large, deadly looking beak.

These birds love sap. This is how they got their name, I’m sure. Peculiar to their kind, they don’t “drum” on branches or other things. These birds “drill” for sap. They are noted for their rows of small holes, spaced closely together, in trees. They then gingerly sip the sap as it flows from the tree.

Other forms of nature, a wonderful array, such as butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, large beetles and others have the yellow-bellied sapsucker to thank for this banquet.

A bit of woodpecker trivia: 1.) They have long, sticky tongues to pick up and “grab” insects; 2.) Most can stick out their tongues more than twice the length of their beaks, some as much as four times the length; 3.) A special “gluey” substance is in their saliva. 4.) On their tongue’s tip some have barbs, others brushes. 5.) Between glue and barb, they usually get their bug. 6.) When not jabbing after insects, the woodpecker’s long tongue pulls back inside its head, like a retractable tape measure, wrapping up and around inside the skull of the bird’s head. 7.) Birds don’t have many taste buds.

We have several thousand, capable of sensing four major types of taste: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. The average songbird, on the other hand, has just 30 to 70 taste buds. The Allen’s hummingbird has only one. Taste buds are the little clusters of sensitive cells on the surface of the tongue that make eating enjoyable. Without them, all food would taste like sawdust.

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