THE BIRDS EYE STORY
Birds Eye maple is a sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) which possesses what is believed to be a genetic characteristic of unknown origin. Research by universities has not been able to uncover the cause of the bird’s-eye characteristic.
This extremely rare bird’s-eye figure is in demand world wide and has been for over 150 years. It is especially sought after in the European countries, but particularly in Italy and Germany, and more recently has become popular in the rest of Europe as well as in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Korea. In many foreign countries, bird’s-eye maple is considered a status symbol and ranks among the most expensive woods in the world. In addition to the uniqueness of the bird’s-eye figure, it is only found in limited localities in the United States and Canada which adds to the demand for this maple tree anomaly.
The best location to discover this bird’s-eye characteristic is in the Lake Superior watershed, with the primary area being in the northern half of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The secondary location to find bird’s-eye is in the northern New England area, particularly upper New York, Vermont, and Maine. However, the vast majority is found in the Upper Michigan region. Buyers and their agents make several trips to the Upper Michigan during its long winter months to compete for the high quality bird’s-eye maple logs. Winter time is bird’s-eye time, and this is when competition for the high quality bird’s-eye logs becomes fierce. This is the time of year when the maple trees are dormant, the wood is stable, and the logs are not subject to deterioration as they are in the summer months.
Birds Eye Maple is becoming extremely popular in the U. S. and its use domestically has increased substantially in the past ten years. The increased demand and competition by log buyers, both foreign and domestic, has forced the price of maple logs containing bird’s-eye characteristic to extremely high levels. Logs selling in the range of $50,000 per thousand board feet is not uncommon with extremes to as high as $80,000/M for the perfect logs. The average selling price of a bird’s-eye maple log is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 per 1,000 board feet. To put this in perspective, one double bottom truck fully loaded with the highest quality maple bird’s-eye logs would be worth in excess of $700,000. The same size load of plain hard maple logs would be worth about $3,000. The bird’s-eye characteristic is, of course, an important feature, but to command the premium prices, the bird’s-eye figure must occur in a high quality log.
Identifying bird’s-eye in standing trees can be difficult for the novice but, if heavily figured, is relatively obvious to a trained individual. Every maple tree in which bird’s-eye occurs is different from the next. No two bird’s-eye trees are identical; and a section of the same tree is not identical to the next section. For example, the bird’s-eye characteristic can occur as scattered or dense in either large or small ‘eyes’ or any combination possible. The ‘eyes’ can occur on one face of the tree or all faces. The ‘eyes’ can also occur only on the inside of the tree, only on the outside, or in any combination. The only thing you can say for sure about bird’s-eye is that you cannot say anything for sure about bird’s-eye.