Sapsuckers are birds that drill orderly holes through the bark of trees. The holes go just through the bark to the cambium layer, causing the tree to bleed. The sapsuckers then return to them later that day or the next day to feed on the sap. Sapsuckers are migratory and may just pass through an area in the spring, but they will sometimes return to the same tree over multiple years, creating new rows of holes each year. Trees will attempt to grow over this damage, and in most cases are successful. Occasionally the damage is so extensive that mortality can occur from that point up. Federal regulations don’t allow you to shoot sapsuckers, so control is usually some manner of deterrent, like wrapping the main stem with hardware cloth or burlap, or hanging scare tactics in the tree.
Written by: Linda Williams, forest health specialist, Woodruff, (Linda.Williams@wisconsin.gov), 715-356-5211 x232.