How can we stop birds from destroying our trees?
Several trees in our yard are ringed with tiny holes around the trunks. We think the damage is caused by woodpeckers going after bugs. Can we get rid of the bugs so the birds will go elsewhere? —Carol and Bob Lantz, Menominee, MI
Kevin O’Connor replies: This is a good question for a tree expert, so I got in touch with Tchukki Andersen, a board-certified master arborist on the staff of the Tree Care Industry Association. Here’s what she had to say.
“The lines of closely spaced holes indicate that your trees have been visited by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker that summers in New England and the Great Lakes states. It isn’t going after bugs under the bark. As its name indicates, it feeds on the sap that oozes out of the holes that it repeatedly pecks, and on the insects attracted by the sap. Red maple, paper birch, and eastern hemlock are sapsucker favorites, but this bird will also go after many other tree species.
“Unfortunately, all those holes aren’t good for a tree. They interrupt the flow of sap, and provide an avenue for insects and decay fungi to invade. Most trees can put up with this drilling nonsense for a time, but then go into decline.
“Sapsuckers may not be picky about the trees they peck, but they don’t like unfamiliar surfaces under their feet. So they won’t like it if you wrap trunks with burlap or small-mesh hardware cloth. Check these deterrents each year: Replace the burlap when it deteriorates, and adjust the hardware cloth so it doesn’t cut into the bark.
“You can also try hanging CDs or Mylar ribbons from the branches. There’s evidence that their random movement and flashing disturb sapsuckers, as well as other woodpeckers.
“Finally, check with your local extension service. It may have specific control strategies that work with the sapsuckers in your area.”
Thanks to Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist, Tree Care Industry Association