Birch Tree & Woodpeckers

The attractive birch has a story to tell of how, it and wild birds, particularly Woodpeckers helped humans to discover a valuable food source.

An interesting Anishnabeg (Ojibway) legend that explains how wild birds helped us discover one of natures wonderful bounties.

This is a direct quote from the book Ojibway Heritage by Basil Johnston pages 39-40. (Purchase this book below.)

Foods were discovered by observation and deduction, some quite by accident. 

For example: That the fluids of trees were nutritious was discovered, according to tradition, in the following manner. 

The birch tree suffered enormously from the itch, he squirmed; he writhed in discomfort. Though he had numerous limbs, arms, and fingers, he could not scratch.

There was nothing the birch tree could do to relieve his sufferings. 

In his agony the poor birch called out to the squirrels and porcupines and beavers to pick out the ticks, grubs, and beetles that were tormenting him. But the squirrels and porcupines and beavers were too busy to offer any help. The best they could do was to give their sympathy without limit.

The Birch Tree is Helped

Next the birch called out to the birds. They too felt sorry for the birch, but they could do nothing. Only the woodpeckers came to help. Coming to the aid of the poor tree the downy woodpecker, his cousin, the red-headed woodpecker, the flicker, and the chickadee all picked every pest from beneath the bark of the birch. The birch tree ceased itching.

Many years later the woodpeckers were in distress. Not knowing what to do or from whom they could find help, they, at last came to the birch and related a sad story. In the long rainless spell, the woodpeckers were dying from thirst. The woodpeckers were unable to drink from pools and lakes and streams, like other birds could. 

“Could,” they asked, “you do something?”

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The birch remembering the help that he had received from the woodpeckers said to them, “Go to my trunk and drill two holes near each other and they will presently fill up with my sap.”

The desperate woodpeckers flew down and drummed away at the trunk of the tree, until they had drilled two tiny holes.

Almost immediately the holes began to fill up and yield a rich flow of sap. Thirstily, the woodpeckers drank and they have been drinking from trees since that time.

From the woodpeckers the Anishnabeg learned that trees yield sap and that trees could be tapped.

Birch tree sap is vinegary tasting. It was not long after the birch tree discovery that maple trees were tried and tapped but with a much sweeter resulting syrup as we are all familiar with today.

A variety of birds will use the holes that Woodpeckers make in trees to drink syrup from. Not unlike our own syrup feeders we provide for Hummingbirds. Wild birds make use of many natural sources of bird food which of course makes up most of their diet.

Ojibway Heritage by Basil Johnston

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> Birch Tree & Woodpecker

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