When your only tool is a hammer…

Cedar waxwings in palmetto

Towards the end of a day of birding with my friends Carmine and Lori, we visited a small park. Finding little of interest, we returned to the parking lot. Here a collection of palmetto palms, Sabal palmetto, lined the parking lot. The trees hung heavy with ripe and ready berries, actually drupes, hanging from a heavy stalk like a huge bunch of small grapes. About two dozen sleek and colorful cedar waxwing and a dozen bigger and bulkier American robins swirled about feeding heavily.

Cedar waxwing with palmetto drupe

The waxwings would descend upon the stalks bearing the fruit and pluck off a berry that was almost half the size of the birds head. Without chewing, the berry descended down the maw and the birds resumed searching for another berry to consume.


After eating a few berries, the bird would move to a nearby tree to rest and digest. Birds constantly shuffled between the various trees.

The robins and waxwings were joined by a single northern mockingbird and a northern cardinal, each grabbing a single drupe before sallying off. It appeared that the number of robins and waxwings overwhelmed the trees keeping most birds away.

Carmine and Lori called my attention to a lone adult female yellow-bellied sapsucker perched on the trunk of a nearby palmetto. This bird hammered away at a hole in the tree. My friends noted that the bird was eating something red from within the hole. No insect should be red and the center of a palmetto is not read. I could not imagine what it could possibly be. Shortly, the bird stopped and fluttered over to the nearest palmetto berry stalk, selected a berry, and plucked it. Unlike the waxwings and robins, the sapsucker did not swallow the berry whole. Instead, it brought the berry to the hole in the tree, carefully placed it inside of the hole. Only then did the sapsucker resume pecking. Suddenly it all made sense! The sapsucker, being a woodpecker, has a chisel for a tool. For the sapsucker, the old saying can be modified to read: “If the only tool you have is a chisel, everything needs to be chipped out of the wood.” Instinct restricted the feeding style of the sapsucker, but the bird found a way to adapt.

5 thoughts on “When your only tool is a hammer…

  1. Beautiful pix of the waxwings. Interesting how the woodpecker consumed the berry! I enjoyed the article.

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