The sapsucker is a bird that drills holes in rows or rings around the trunks of your trees - especially young live oaks. Do they hurt anything? You bet they do. Sometimes called a woodpecker, the beautiful red-headed sapsucker is lovely to look at but a real menace.
When a tree is in stress, the sugars concentrate to help fight infirmities and to help repair injuries. Certain animals like the sapsucker can detect that. We know this from research at the USDA's Northwest Forest Experiment Station. This theory is also backed up by Lawrence Kilhan in his book Woodpeckers of Eastern North America.
Here are some web sites with additional information on sapsuckers:
The birds like the sweet sap and drill the holes in tidy rows so the sap flows and is easy to suck up. Other animals will also take advantage of the sweet oozing sap, including butterflies, other birds and squirrels. To solve the problem splash some hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, then smear on some homemade Tree Trunk Goop which is one third each – compost, soft rock phosphate and natural diatomaceous earth. Then apply the Sick Tree Treatment to improve the health of the tree so the sapsucker won’t be attracted.
To help keep these beautiful pests from damaging your trees in the first place, use the gentle organic fertilizers only, none of the high nitrogen synthetic stuff, make sure the soil is aerated rather than compacted, avoid physical damage to trunks and limbs and maintain the proper soil moisture.
Sapsucker damage on ginkgo trunk.
QUESTION: I have two ornamental pear trees that are more than 17 years old. I recently noticed four rows of almost perfect holes, one row on top of the other, on one of the tree trunks. I have heard woodpecker sounds, but I also worry that I may have insect pests. G.M., Sherman
ANSWER: Sapsuckers are woodpeckers that drill holes in rows and columns. They are seeking concentrated sugars that accumulate in stressed trees.
Even if your trees look healthy, the bird damage indicates that the trees need help. Use my Sick Tree Treatment.