March 22, 2007
As spring slowly warms up many migratory birds return to their summer territories.
Robins are always seen as a welcome harbinger of spring. One less welcome returnee is the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. This small member of the woodpecker family can cause big damage to your prized trees. The bird itself is a little larger than a robin and has a bright red cap and white stripes on its head. The balance of its body is black and white with a yellowish tinge to the belly.
This industrious bird has been known to cause damage to a large variety of tree species.
It tends to prefer smooth barked deciduous trees like the linden, aspen and apple, but will frequently attack Scots pine, white pine and other conifers.
The damage caused is very characteristic, small pea sized holes in neat rows horizontally and vertically, sometimes girdling the trunk. These holes fill up with sap and the bird returns periodically to sip up his tasty handy work. Unfortunately the holes injure the tree directly by damaging the vascular system, preventing the flow of sap back down the tree. These holes also allow insects and diseases to enter into the tree and cause further injury.
Sapsuckers are federally protected migratory birds. You can not simply eliminate the problem by eliminating the birds. This would not only be illegal it would create a vacancy in the territory and a new bird will move in and set up shop. If the tree that is being damaged is not particularly valuable you may consider leaving it to the birds and protecting other more valuable trees. Remedies such as applying hardware cloth to the area being excavated or applying tangle foot to the bark to discourage feeding activity, have proven to be effective. Other people tie tinfoil pie pans, blow up owls, or plastic snakes to discourage the Sapsuckers.
If you are growing trees for specimens or timber you may wish to locate the hollow tree the birds are nesting. These birds normally nest in cavities of rotten aspens or other similar, easy to excavate trees. Mark the tree and eliminate it in the winter when the nest is unoccupied. The birds are quite attractive and do frequent suet feeders. If the damage is minor and you can encourage them to feed elsewhere, they can be quite entertaining to watch.
For more information on trees and tree pests contact an ISA Certified Arborist.