Do woodpeckers only like diseased trees?

Asked April 15, 2015, 4:48 PM EDT

I have a neighbor who seems to relish cutting down trees (and shooting any wildlife that wanders through his yard) He's got his eye on thinning some western red cedars and various tall firs on one edge of his property - we live in a residential neighborhood and these trees add a lot of beauty and benefits to our little butte. I recently saw some hairy or downy woodpeckers hopping around on one of the firs, eating from rows of holes they'd made. These trees are large and look very healthy. So when I tried to appeal to this guy by mentioning the cool wildlife that the trees support, he said, "Oh great, that means the tree is diseased. Woodpeckers only feed on diseased trees. I wonder when it's going to fall on my house." Total backfire. I know I can't change this guy's nature (he has a side "tree service" business and all the equipment to do the work himself). But I'd like to see if his 'belief' about woodpeckers and diseased trees is true or not. There are plenty of reasons for him to keep these trees on his property - shade, noise reduction, erosion reduction, privacy. I'd like to reduce one of his perceived tree "liabilities". Thanks

Washington County Oregon

2 Responses

The fact that the holes are in rows, as you point out, indicates that this is a sapsucker that is foraging on the tree. Sapsuckers are a type of woodpecker, and their holes are easy to recognize because of the orderly rows they are in. See attached picture of sapsucker holes, and here is a link to a photo of the bird:

Sapsuckers do not seek out diseased trees. They feed on a wide range of trees and woody shrubs, and as their name suggests, they are drilling to get at the sap. Normally, they don't do enough damage to weaken or kill the tree.

Other woodpeckers, such as pileated woodpeckers, are in fact foraging for insects that are inside a tree. In this case this would indicate that the tree is either dead or dying. But the holes they make are quite different and would not be confused with a sapsucker.

So your neighbor may have other valid reasons to remove the trees, but sapsucker damage shouldn't be one of them. Thinning (removing some trees within a dense stand) can actually benefit the remaining trees by freeing up more growing resources, creating a healthier stand of trees in the long run.

Thanks Amy - this is exactly it! You rock. Best, Tim