If you listen quietly outside during March and April, you may hear a distinct tapping sound in your neighborhood trees. A bird called the sapsucker is creating this tapping sound. Sapsuckers are a migrating bird that spend their summers in the northern part of the country and the winters and early springs in the southern parts. Because the sapsucker is here for a short amount of time, you may miss seeing the bird itself. But if you look at your neighborhood trees or those in the forest, you may notice the distinct patterns they leave behind on the trunks.
The sapsucker will typically drill horizontally parallel rows of holes in the trunks or branches of trees. The tree will begin to ooze sap and sugars from the holes, which were drilled by the birds. The sapsucker will come back to the drilled holes and suck up the sap, which oozed out along with the insects that the sugars attracted.
The sapsuckers tend to be attracted to maple, ash, elm and oak. Typically, the health of the tree will not be compromised by the damage caused by the sapsucker so long as the damage occurs on the trunk or larger branches. However, as the sapsucker begins to drill on smaller or younger trees or smaller branches of a larger tree, this may have a detrimental effect. Oak trees are typically better at handling the damage caused by the sapsuckers.
The scars of the holes drilled by a sapsucker may be seen for many years after a bird has fed on that tree. If damage caused by the sapsucker is new fresh wounds and becomes intolerable, you may discourage the birds from continuing to drill on that tree.
Dan Gill says, “You may wrap the trunk and major branches with burlap held in place with duct tape. Leave this in place for about a month – the sapsuckers feed here for just a few weeks before migrating north to follow spring. This will discourage the birds from drilling in that particular area of the tree.”
If you enjoy watching birds in your backyard and the damage is not great, then take the opportunity to enjoy the backyard wildlife. You will be able to hear their rhythmic tapping in the trees and enjoy their unmistakable black, white and red coloring.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture