Woodpecker damage

Asked April 18, 2016, 9:24 AM EDT

We have 8 old white pines along the lakeshore. They were trees that were not forested off when the surroundings were turned into farmland. We discovered that this winter the woodpeckers have been damaging a number of the trees. There is no sign of insect infestation. Some of the holes are now 6" in diameter and are probably 6-8" deep. I read on line that wrapping the trees in burlap may help protect them. That we should also wash out the holes first with anti-bacterial soap and wash that out before covering. Another source said to use window screen and wrap the truck. There was also mention of a sticky spray that could be used to deter the birds from landing. These are beautiful trees and tower over the surroundings, so we are anxious to try and preserve them. Do you have any suggestions?

Aitkin County Minnesota trees and shrubs woodpeckers

1 Response

Hi, and thanks for contacting AaE.

When woodpeckers seem to concentrate on particular trees, it is usually because there are insects - grubs in particular - that are infesting the trees.
Going by your description of the holes that have been excavated, these sound like they could be Piliated Woodpeckers. These crow-sized woodpeckers excavate rectangular. 6-8 inch holes. If these are old trees, they may be on their way to dying, and the insects are moving in.

You must remember that any woodpecker eats insects - not wood. Even if you have not observed any insect activity on these trees - the woodpecker activity is a sure sign that the trees have an insect problem.

(Woodpeckers also "drum" on trees, house siding, fencing and anything that will make a noise. they do this to declare their territory - but this kind of pecking does not result in the kind of damage you are describing.)

Unless you are able to identify the insects that are attacking these trees, simply preventing woodpecker activity will not save the trees, and indeed may hasten their demise if the grubs are allowed to continue feeding unmolested.

Using an antibacterial soap will not do a thing to prevent the insect activity, nor the woodpeckers. Indeed, any kind of treatment like this would simply encourage mold (not bacteria) and wood rot.

Burlap wrapping would not stop a woodpecker, if thick tree bark doesn't do so!

Placing screening could prevent the birds from continuing their activity in a particular area, but they will follow the insects within the tree and attempt to excavate new holes elsewhere.

Sticky pastes would certainly be a turn-off for birds, but it wouldn't take long for the sticky stuff to become covered with pine needles and other "stuff". The birds would come back in shortly thereafter. Besides, if these are large trees it would be hazardous to attempt to apply any of these remedies.

I suggest that you get ahold of a certified arborist in your area who can come out and assess these trees.

Here is some information about woodpeckers:

I hope that some of this information is helpful. Please contact AaE again if you have further questions.