yellow bellied sap sucker tree damage

Asked June 8, 2016, 11:18 AM EDT

Earlier this year I noticed holes in my sugar maple tree. I called an urban arborist, who confirmed the damage was done by a yellow-bellied sap sucker. What can I do to keep this bird away from my tree? I've never even seen the bird but I believe all of the damage has been done this spring; I have never noticed holes in the tree before

Hennepin County Minnesota wildlife damage management sapsucker damage

1 Response

Unlike other woodpeckers, sapsuckers are not primarily interested in insects for food. Instead, they're looking for tree sap. They collect sap using their long brush- tipped tongue as the sap flows out of the holes they've drilled. The holes sapsuckers drill are about one-eighth of an inch in diameter, and are evenly spaced up and down and around the trunk, appearing as if done by a machine. Don't confuse sapsucker holes with holes created by insect borers. Borer holes are rarely as numerous as sapsucker holes and are randomly spaced. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers most often drill holes in white birch, sugar maple, red maple, Austrian pine, Scots pine, Canada hemlock, apple, ornamental crabapple, mountain ash and linden trees. In most cases, sapsuckers do not seriously harm trees. The holes are shallow and the wounds do not cause significant or permanent damage. But sometimes a particular tree becomes a favorite feeding place for an individual sapsucker. In this case, large areas on the trunk may be dotted with many holes. When this happens, the tree may be weakened and become more sensitive to other problems, such as disease or drought. The wounds themselves may attract harmful insects. See a certified arborist for an appropriate assessment of your tree's health. To control sapsucker damage, wrap the area of the trunk where the bird is drilling with burlap or hardware cloth. Scare the bird away as often as possible when you discover it drilling. Sometimes placing an artificial owl or snake in the tree may *temporarily* frighten it away. Be prepared, however, for the bird to simply move up the tree trunk to an uncovered portion. Both state and federal laws protect yellow-bellied sapsuckers and other woodpeckers. A control permit will be required to kill the bird (you can get more information about this from USDA Wildlife Services at 1-866-4USDWS). Be advised, however, that if this is sapsucker habitat, the problem may continue with other birds.