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I have been noticing squirrels eating something from the concrete surface of my driveway. I have also noticed narrow brown objects shaped like spear heads and about 3/8ths of an inch long lying on the cement of my porch. (I originally thought they were pupated beetles). Putting the two together, I now realize that the brown objects are the seeds of my three Sweet Gum trees, and the squirrels have been eating them. When I discovered Juncos on my porch and most of the brown objects gone, I concluded that the Juncos have also been eating them on the ground.
 
Evidently the gum balls (of which there are thousands on my trees) are seed pods, each of which contains dozens of seeds. The pods open and expel the seeds, which helicopter to the ground, landing at some distance from the tree if wind is present.
 
Most of the gum balls that I have found on the ground have already opened up and expelled their seeds. However a few, greener ones have come down, still closed tightly.
 
I cannot explain why other birders are reporting finches picking seeds out of the gum balls in their Sweet Gum trees, yet all of the action around mine is on the ground. For some reason, mine are apparently remaining closed too tightly for the finches to get at them while they are still on the  tree, then opening and expelling their seeds so quickly that the squirrels and Juncos get them on the ground. That apparently happens year after year because I have never seen finches feeding in the trees. We do have House Finches and Goldfinches at neighborhood feeders. If the Sweet Gum seeds were  accessible while still on the trees, I'm sure the finches would find them.
 
I Googled "sweet gum seeds" and was surprised to discover that there is a market for the gum balls. You can buy 8 for $1.00 (20% off!) on EBay, and the $2.25 shipping charge can be discounted if you combine your order with another purchase. Bluejay.com is selling "100+" for "$3.99 firm" plus shipping of only $6.99. Another EBay seller beats Blue Jay's price,  offering a bag of 100+ gum balls for $3.50. Moreover, that seller's gum balls are not only promised to be "new" but also "round and prickly."  Naturally, you can save if you buy in quantity. One EBay seller is offering 800 for $26.10, which comes out to $3.26 per hundred, a savings of 24 cents per hundred vs. the $3.50 EBay seller. Patience could probably yield an even lower price in the present recession atmosphere. The best bid for the 800 submitted so far is $20.00, and there are only 3 bidding days left!
 
Incidentally, I have no financial stake in any of these sellers and do not recommend buying gumballs from any of them. I do, however, have an offer of my own to make, if you can really be patient. The Honduran alien who raked and disposed of  my gum balls for $20 in April, 2007 has gone back to Honduras. If you can wait until next April and contact me then, I will probably offer to PAY YOU! 50 cents for every thousand gumballs you rake up and haul away from my front lawn. (I can't make this offer on Mobirds now because commercial advertising on the list is a no no. Worse still, the EBay and Bluejay.com merchants might ask the Antitrust Division to bar me from predatory pricing).
 
One more interesting fact about Liquidambar styraciflua, the American Sweet Gum tree. It has been called a "living fossil." Twenty extinct species of the genus Liquidambar are known, the oldest from Upper Eocene rocks of Greenland laid down 55 million years ago. Yet only 3 species of Liquidambar persist today. One is native to Turkey, another to Formosa and styraciflua to America.
 
Have a nice Christmas, everybody.
 
Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
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