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Sapsuckers and Sap

Why don't they get stuck?

Sapsuckers, a specialized group of woodpeckers, don’t actually suck sap. After pecking neat rows of small holes in trees to cause the sugary liquid to flow, the birds lick it up with tongues tipped with stiff hairs. So why doesn’t a sapsucker’s beak get stuck shut? Part of the answer may lie in the sapsucker’s saliva. Scientists conjecture that the bird’s saliva contains a substance that prevents sap from congealing, a sort of anticoagulant. When a sapsucker pecks holes in a tree’s bark, sap flows freely. But when researchers do the same, they can’t get the sap to flow nearly as well!

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote® 

Do Sapsuckers Really Suck Sap?

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.
[Sounds of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging, pecking holes]
The name sapsucker, while ludicrous to some, is also misleading. [Red-naped Sapsucker “mewing” calls] Sapsuckers, a specialized group of woodpeckers, don’t actually suck sap. After pecking neat rows of small holes in trees to cause the sugary liquid to flow, the birds lick it up with tongues tipped with stiff hairs.
[Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging, pecking holes]
You may rightly wonder, with all that sap-licking, why a sapsucker’s beak doesn’t get stuck shut. If you’ve ever gotten tree sap on your fingers, you know how sticky it is.
[Red-breasted Sapsuckers calling]
Part of the answer may lie in the sapsucker’s saliva.
Scientists conjecture that the bird’s saliva contains a substance that prevents sap from congealing, a sort of anticoagulant. When a sapsucker pecks holes in a tree’s bark, sap flows freely. But when researchers do the same, they can’t get the sap to flow nearly as well.
[Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging]
Trees normally seal over, in short order, any wounds that cause their sap to flow. Sapsuckers have found a way around trees’ natural defenses. And, for the time being, they’ve got scientists baffled too.
[Red-naped Sapsucker “mewing” calls] 
Today's show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. Find us at BirdNote.org.
                                        ###
Sounds of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker foraging [76519] recorded by C. Marantz; Red-naped Sapsucker “mewing” calls [49061] recorded by G.A. Keller; Red-breasted Sapsucker calling [119418] by G.A. Keller.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org   August 2018  Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# sapsucker-01-2012-08-08    sapsucker-01        
An excellent source on sapsuckers and tree sap is at: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/featured_birds/default.cfm...

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