Sapsuckers: Don't Let Them Destroy Your Trees!

Share this post:

sapsucker damage I have written about birds called Sapsuckers, primarily Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. I have received several questions this year regarding the damage that these members of the wood pecker family inflicts upon trees (There are over 250 species of trees that they will feed on during the year)  and what can be done to stop the attacks. They can cause serious damage to trees as they make holes in the trees in search of food. If the number of holes created by this feeding ends up girdling the tree, the tree can no longer move fluid up and down through the phloem and xylem. This is especially true if the holes completely encircle the tree. Insects make up the larger part of the Sapsuckers diet, but it is better known for the prolific number of holes they will make on the trunk or major limbs of a tree. They do so in order to obtain sap from the tree and will also feed on the cambium layer. They use their brush-like tongue to sweep the sap out of the holes. Sapsuckers are the only member of the woodpecker family that causes this type of extensive damage. You can determine if the damage was caused by Sapsuckers as the bored holes will be in neat rows, either arranged vertically or horizontally, and holes are ¼ inch in diameter. Many times, the Sapsuckers will return to the same tree and enlarge previous holes to obtain additional sap. This activity can result in girdling the tree, which will lead to its death.

sapsucker damage

Besides girdling the tree, the holes will allow sap from the tree to ooze out, which can attract bees, hornets or other insects that will feed on the sap. The holes can also be an open invitation to wood decaying fungi that will begin feeding on the heart wood of the tree, causing further stress. Sapsuckers will test different trees in the early spring to locate ones that have a high sugar content. If they find a preferred tree, they will return to it throughout the year and can continue feeding on it for several years. To discourage Sapsuckers from feeding on your trees, wrap them in burlap or hardware cloth. Remember that your tree will continue to grow, so don’t attach either of these two wraps with nylon cord or other material that does not stretch. Keep in mind you may need to redo the wrapping to allow for growth. Another product you can use is called bird tanglefoot, a sticky product that is spread over the trunk to discourage the Sapsuckers from landing on your tree. From my experience with this product, it can get messy in a couple of years as it becomes coated in dust, dirt and even insects. It does also become unsightly after a couple of years. please note, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Federal regulations prohibit the shooting of sapsuckers. Shooting them would be ineffective anyway as they are migratory and other sapsuckers will take the place of the ones that are shot.