Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Aspen groves are well-known for their value to wildlife. One of the many birds that use them extensively is the red-naped sapsucker.
My wife, Jennifer Miller, photographed these sapsuckers on a trip earlier in the summer to City of Rocks National Reserve. Throughout the aspens, the birds were feeding their young nesting in holes in aspen trees.
As their name suggests, sapsuckers do feed on sap--predominantly from willow trees. However, they don't suck sap, they peck the tree and then sip it. The tip of the sapsucker's tongue has small, hair-like projectiles that help it better lap the sap.
As with many birds, young sapsuckers need protein in the form of insects and other invertebrates. The adult sapsuckers we watched at City of Rocks brought plenty of insects to the constantly begging youngsters.
It was a great experience to watch these birds, from just a few feet away, squeeze into the hole and then reappear.
Hopefully, it's an experience future generations can enjoy. Aspen groves have been in steep decline, which appears to be related to climate change. Aspens provide habitat for not only sapsuckers, but also mule deer, elk and a large variety of birds.
Aspen trees are actually a community of clones--the grove is actually one organism growing from roots. As such, many consider the aspen grove to be the largest and oldest organism on earth. The "Pando" aspen colony in Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old and weighs 6600 tons--making it the largest and oldest thing on earth.
Hopefully climate change actions can help save the aspen groves--and the species like red-naped sapsuckers that depend on them for their survival.