One very dead sucker

April 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm 4 comments

When the dogs and I went down to let the chickens out this morning, Audie found a small dead bird and brought it to me. Based on the bird’s size and its bill, I initially thought it was a Hairy Woodpecker, but a glance at the belly told me it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. One very dead sucker.

Like the Hairy Woodpecker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a black and white bird that’s slightly smaller than a robin. The Sapsucker is the only woodpecker with a prominent vertical white stripe down its side. It has a striking red crown and forehead and the bird gets it name from its yellow breast. Both the male and female have red crowns, the female’s throat and chin are yellow-white and the male’s are red. As you can see, this bird is a female.

The white stripe on her side and her red crown are visible here (Audie was really proud of this little prize – and while he held her gently, the boy did not want to put her down, so I humored him and let him hold the bird while I took pictures).

Sapsuckers are common in our woods though we hear them a lot more than we see them. While we’re usually alerted to their presence by the sound of their drilling we’re also amused by their odd catlike territorial calls. And it cracked me up when I read that a group of Sapsuckers is referred to as a slurp.

This pretty little girl was probably killed when she collided with one of our living room windows. She had to hit it hard, because Audie found her a good 20 feet from the window and, based on the profuse bleeding from her mouth, the little bird was probably dead on, or just shortly after, impact. Birds don’t understand that the reflections of world in a window are an illusion and millions of them die from window collisions every year.

Kit Chubb of the Avian Care and Research Foundation published a summary of 397 cases of proven or witnessed window collisions by 80 different species of birds. Birds that died were necropsied, surviving birds were treated. Nearly half of the birds studied had closed head injuries and a third suffered from internal hemorrhaging. Fifteen percent had blood in their mouths and in only five cases did this originate from a brain injury. Over half the birds studied died or were euthanized.

Chubb writes that fatal internal hemorrhages in birds that strike windows often occur through aortic dissection. When the heart decelerates suddenly, the aorta, which is fixed in place, stays put and the two organs are ripped apart (this is same thing that is believed to have killed Princess Di). Death from aortic dissection is almost instantaneous.

No Sapsuckers were included in Chubb’s study, but eighteen Hairy Woodpeckers and twenty Downy Woodpeckers did – and only one of them died. Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers and other piciformes have built in cranial anti-collision systems that protect them from many collisions — but it appears that our little Sapsucker quite literally died of a broken heart…


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Sweetgrass Are We Having Fun?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  April 18, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    My in-laws get yellow-bellied sapsuckers all the time at their place in Little Rock. Pretty little birds.

  • 2. Donald McCaig  |  April 19, 2010 at 6:52 am

    We had many distressing collisions in a bank of sunroom windows until they aged when the bird strikes stopped. Before they did a friend suggested hawk silhouette cutouts.

  • 3. H. Houlahan  |  April 19, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I was going to ask if you had those hawk silhouettes.

    We had one on a picture window in the 70’s, and it seemed to work. Stopped finding dead/stunned cardinals in the front shrubberies.

  • 4. SmartDogs  |  April 19, 2010 at 9:59 am

    We haven’t had many problems with bird hits to date so I haven’t bothered with anti-bird devices – yet.

    If I do, I won’t use a hawk silhouette because (1) the bird feeders sit near the windows and it might scare the songbirds off and (2) Chubb’s article notes that one of the largest groups of birds represented in the study were raptors. Since our woods are full of hawks, owls, falcons and eagles I’m a bit worried that one of the Red Tail Hawks that nest behind the training building or Barred Owls that live in our back yard would attack it in a territorial dispute.

    Clear decals that just break up the reflections on the windows are available. I’ll look into them if we have any more serious collisions.

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