Sapsucker Damage to Trees

These are relatively recent feeding sites from a Sapsucker woodpecker.

These are relatively recent feeding sites from a Sapsucker woodpecker.

While out in the forest, park, or even your own backyard you may have seen rows of small holes seemingly drilled into the bark of trees. These holes are not from an insect (those are more randomly spaced and usually smaller) but from a type of woodpecker called a Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus sp.). They chip away the outer layer of bark to feed on the tree’s sap. They usually prefer thinner barked trees such as birch, but can be found on conifers as well.

Repeated damage by sapsucker woodpeckers over the previous few years.

Repeated damage by sapsucker woodpeckers over the previous few years.

Damage is usually not severe enough to cause significant long term damage to the tree. Although the Birch tree I was pruning east of Seattle and is pictured here, seemed to suffer enough damage that its growth habit was altered. Instead of one central leader, lower more vertical branches began to assume dominance because of the extensive damage to the leader, giving the tree a multi-trunked vase shape.

The main stem of this birch tree has been repeatedly fed on by sapsuckers.

The main stem of this birch tree has been repeatedly fed on by sapsuckers.

Since it’s most often not very damaging to the tree, control is not necessary. If you feel it’s causing significant damage or just find it unsettling to see holes in your favorite tree, wrapping burlap loosely around the area or hanging brightly colored tape may discourage the sapsuckers from returning.

An example of Sapsucker feeding on a holly tree.  The missing bark is probably due to a combination of factors and not solely from the sapsuckers.

An example of Sapsucker feeding on a holly tree. The missing bark is probably due to a combination of factors and not solely from the sapsuckers.

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One Response to Sapsucker Damage to Trees

  1. rae coletti says:

    I have several Viburnum trees with damage that appears to be from the sapsucker woodpecker. They are destroying these trees. Besides trying to deter the bird, how can I stop the damage…probably from insects invading the trees. There is a dark sap running down the trunks and although these trees are evergreens, they are loosing there leaves. Any information you have I would appreciate. Thanks

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