It was a little after noon on a summer day in late July, when a couple of red canaries started pecking away at the ground.
They were digging a hole to feed the larvae of a fungus they had discovered.
The canary trees in the neighborhood were buzzing.
The birds were out.
But this time, the birds were hungry.
And so was I. A few days earlier, I had been spending a couple days at the local farmhouse, digging holes for my new crop of crops, when the bird called to me.
It wanted to see if the canary was around.
The two young birds were coming back with a very different kind of food.
They needed to learn how to eat the fungus, the fungus that was slowly taking root in the ground and eating off the roots of the canaries’ trees.
I had never seen so much dead plant material.
The dead was growing so thick, I wondered if I could pick up some roots and use them to start a new tree.
But I had no time to wait.
My work was about to begin.
The canaries had discovered a fungus.
What would they do?
A few hours later, they were gone.
The birders had a field day, and soon they were looking for more mushrooms, more canaries, and more canary eggs.
The next day, the canarians returned.
This time, they didn’t look for any food.
Instead, they dug up some ground and left.
When the next crop arrived, the birders saw that there was much more of the fungus.
It was starting to make the trees taller.
And as the trees grew taller, they could see that the fungus was taking root deeper and deeper in the soil.
And eventually, it was getting to the point where it was starting a tree that would grow taller than the tree on the other side of the hole.
It wasn’t just mushrooms growing in the holes anymore.
In some places, the fungi had taken root in trees as large as two feet high, as far as the eye could see.
In other places, like this farmhouse that the birds had dug a hole into, the trees were only one or two feet tall.
The fungus had started taking root deep enough to reach into the root system of the trees.
And at some point, the tree had to stop growing.
It couldn’t handle the growth.
The tree was falling apart.
There was a lesson for the bird watchers.
The fungi are a threat.
I told them.
And they took it up on that.
The insects are not.
The plants and trees have to keep on growing.
The roots of many of the tree species are still standing.
They are strong enough to withstand the fungus and even the roots.
But the roots that were once the tree’s foundation are now the fungus’s base.
The root systems are so weak that they cannot support the tree.
They can only support the fungus when the fungus takes root deep in the tree and eats off the tree roots.
So if the tree is standing strong and has survived, why are there still holes in the roots?
The answer is simple.
The trees can hold only so much root tissue.
Trees need to grow bigger to support more trees, and they have to do that while the tree stays healthy.
When a tree starts to die, its roots are pulled out, and when they do that, the soil beneath the tree starts dying.
The more root tissue the tree has to hold, the more it has to lose, and the harder it is to get new roots into the tree, because the roots can’t survive without the new roots.
The same thing happens when trees die.
When it’s dead, the root systems can no longer support the roots and they begin to fall apart.
The soil underneath the tree shrinks and falls apart.
That makes the soil more susceptible to the fungus taking root and causing damage to the tree or even to other trees.
So the fungus can quickly take root in just about any tree, even the old ones that are dying and are falling apart, and if the fungus gets a foothold in that tree, it can start to damage and destroy the trees and even kill the trees itself.
When a tree falls, it’s the birds that are killed.
The flies that carry the fungus to the trees can’t be carried by the birds, and birds don’t have the protection of the insects.
If the birds don�t have a way to move to the new tree, the old tree dies, too.
If a tree is damaged by the fungus or killed by it, the roots are left dangling and they are often the first to go.
The ground around the old trees is also the first place the fungus needs to take root.
So, when canary chicks find out they’re about to be killed by the fungi, they quickly jump into the hole, take root and begin eating off their