Question of the Week: March 16, 2017
“Neil, what is happening to my live oak’s trunk, and how can I stop it? Is this going to kill the tree?”
This is damage done by a sapsucker or woodpecker. These closely related birds peck holes in the trunks of live oaks, pecans and a few other tree species. The holes are always in rows, as if fired from a machine gun, and they usually only penetrate a fraction of an inch beneath the tree’s bark. (Borer holes are randomly spaced and actual tunnels are dug into the wood.)
While I am asked about sapsucker damage quite often, I have to admit that this is about as bad as I’ve ever seen. This bird could drill dominoes with that talent. (Photo was posted by a Facebook friend on my FB page earlier this week.)
These birds injure the wood enough that the tree leaks sap. They come back days later to feed on that sap. However, the presence of the birds does not imply presence of any insects, nor does it invite insects into the tree.
If sapsucker holes are just scattered a few rows here and there, I normally advise people not to worry. If this were my tree, however, I’d be taking corrective action to discourage the bird. They are protected by law, so don’t do anything to harm them.
Seal the open wounds with pruning paint. Then, either coat the trunk with sticky Tree Tanglefoot or apply a paper tree wrap to the trunk. If you opt to wrap it, work from the ground up to the lowest branch. Buy an extra roll so you can open up the wrapping every couple of months – just to be sure no active decay is setting in.