Nature Nugget – Sapsucker Wells

Sapsuckers are small woodpeckers that breed only in North America. There are currently four species recognized: the Yellow-bellied, Red-naped, Red-breasted, and Williamson’s Sapsuckers. The first three species are very closely related and may in actuality be just variations of the same species, since they look similar, have the same calls and habits, and interbreed where their ranges overlap. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is found mostly in eastern North America; the Red-naped Sapsucker is found at low to medium elevations throughout the interior west; the Red-breasted Sapsucker is found along the Pacific coast; and the Williamson’s Sapsucker is found at higher elevations in the mountains throughout the west.

Sapsuckers are cavity nesters and prefer to nest in trees such as aspens and poplars that are infected with heart rot fungus. The fungus makes the heartwood soft, which makes excavating the nest cavity easier. They excavate a new nest cavity every year. Their old cavities provide nesting sites for other species such as swallows, bluebirds, chickadees, and other woodpecker species.

As their name suggests, sapsuckers feed on tree sap, as well as on insects, and even on the cambium (inner bark) of certain trees. Sapsuckers drill vertical and horizontal rows of sap “wells” along the trunks of living trees. Sapsucker wells have been found on more than 275 species of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Each well or hole is about a quarter-inch in diameter and oozes a steady stream of sugary sap. The high sugar content of the sap attracts insects, which become trapped in the sticky sap. When the sapsucker visits the sap wells, it captures (laps) sap and insects with its long bushy tongue. The sapsuckers feed their young with insects dipped into the sap wells, which provides both protein and sugars for the young. This sap accounts for as much as 20 percent of the young sapsuckers’ diet.

Sapsuckers are a “keystone” species, meaning that large portions of certain ecosystems are dependent on them for survival. Not only are numerous species of birds dependent on their old cavities for nesting sites, but whole communities of other organisms use the sap wells for food, including wasps, hornets, butterflies, warblers, chipmunks, and squirrels. Other species such as flycatchers, robins, and vireos feed on the swarms of insects attracted to the sap. Thirty-five species of birds have been reported to visit sapsucker wells to feed on the nutrient-rich sap and/or the insects attracted there. Early returning hummingbirds in the spring are often dependent on sapsucker wells until the flowers start blooming.

As the sapsucker is dependent on the sapsucker wells for its survival, so should we depend on Christ and His Word for our survival. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14. “The words of God are the wellsprings of life. As you seek unto those living springs you will, through the Holy Spirit, be brought into communion with Christ.” Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 20. And as the sapsucker wells overflow and feed a wide variety of other creatures, so should we let God’s Word overflow from our lives to feed others. “He has intrusted you with sacred truth; Christ abiding in the individual members of the church is a well of water springing up into everlasting life. You are guilty before God if you do not make every effort possible to dispense this living water to others.” Christian Service, 12.

David Arbour writes from his home in DeQueen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at

Nature – The Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with handsome black-scalloped plumage. Although it can climb up the trunks of trees and hammer on wood like other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker prefers to spend much time on the ground finding its food. A portion of its diet consists of ants and beetles, and it can often be found in open, sandy areas that are heavily populated by ant colonies.

Approaching the ant mound, the flicker vigorously disturbs the doorway of the ant colony. The “doorway” tunnels underground and branches into many chambers. The ants, protective of their larvae, respond to the threat of intrusion viciously attacking insects and worms, inflicting fatal bites killing their formidable enemies. Instinctively aware of the ants’ response, the flicker disrupts the colony, drawing the ants out of their confines. Its long, blade-like tongue, coated with a special, sticky fluid and impervious to the bite of the ant, is inserted into the ant hole and, being mistaken for an intruding worm, is attacked. The sticky coating entangles the ants and the tongue is quickly removed, and the flicker devours the succulent insects and then reinserts the tongue into the tunnel. With no way for ants to escape, the flicker is able to annihilate an entire ant colony or inflict such damage to the population that tremendous effort is required for the ants to recover.

This woodpecker is able to extend its probing, sticky tongue up to three inches beyond its beak. This allows it to collect and consume huge quantities of ants in a short period of time. Besides ants, the Northern Flicker eats a variety of insects such as crickets, beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars that are found on the ground, under debris. It also eats a variety of fruits, vegetables and berries.

The female determines the final location of their nest. If no available hollow is found, the paired flickers choose a decayed, deciduous tree, chipping and cleaning a suitable site. Carefully they remove the chips and deposit them a considerable distance from the nest to avoid it being exposed. Both the male and female share the responsibility of construction, incubation and also the feeding of the hatchlings. As they mature, survival skills are taught by hiding food for them to retrieve.

Every living thing participates in God’s divine plan, depending on Him for survival. From the least creature to God’s crowning act—Man, who was created in the image of God—all are to do His bidding in his own unique way. Instinctively birds obey, filling the air with music, fertilizing the ground, sometimes pollinating plants and at other times spreading seeds, clothing the earth in green. God said of His people, “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:21.

“God has given you brain power to use. The wants of the believers and the necessities of unbelievers are to be carefully studied, and your labors are to meet their necessities. … You are a servant of the living God.” Evangelism, 650.