Whether it’s a robin perched in the canopy singing a morning tune, or a hummingbird fluttering around tree flowers, the connection birds have with our plants can be truly beautiful.

Or...it can get ugly. Woodpeckers love our trees too, but in this case the feeling isn’t mutual. These birds drill their beaks into a trunk in search of food, leaving wounds that can hurt trees down the line.

If you suspect a woodpecker has been poking at your tree, read on to confirm the signs of bird damage, and get tips on how to help your tree.

How To Recognize Woodpecker Damage

Woodpeckers prod, poke and jab at our trees to nibble on the grubs (larvae) of boring insects and sap inside. So, what happens to trees as they feed?

What Does Woodpecker Damage Look Like?

A woodpecker’s mark is hard to miss. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the type of woodpeckers that most commonly target trees, create precise rows of horizontal or vertical holes across a tree’s trunk. The holes are close together, ranging from 2” to 8” in diameter, and there can be lots of ‘em since sapsuckers usually return to the same tree more than once. (If this description doesn’t quite match what you're seeing, a different intruder might be poking at your tree.)Sapsuckers have a few favorites, namely maple, pine, spruce, birch, and fruit trees. But any tree is fair game.

What Does Woodpecker Damage Do To Trees?

It’s not the pecking that’s the problem, but what happens in the long term.

Anytime a tree is wounded, it leaves an opening for opportunistic pests or fungi to barge in and further weaken or even kill the plant. Plus, if a tree was already sick before a sapsucker started to feed, it could be weakened by the feeding, and it’ll have a much harder time regaining strength.

How To Prevent Future Woodpecker Damage

The bad news is there’s no way to mend the damage once a sapsucker has chipped away at your tree. But the good news is the birds themselves don’t pose a threat to trees. As long as you give your tree all the essentials it needs to stay healthy, woodpeckers aren’t a huge problem.

Still, it’s best not to give sapsuckers free rein, and protecting your tree is recommended. One option is to wrap the trunk in thin material like burlap so sapsuckers can’t dig in. Keep the tree bundled up in April and May, and then again in September and October when sapsuckers are active. Be sure to remove the burlap in the off-months to avoid moisture buildup on tree bark.

You can also scare off sapsuckers with visual deterrents. Shiny objects like aluminum foil, pie tins, old CDs or reflective ribbon are sometimes used to turn the birds away. Or, try a sticky bird repellent. These products can be smeared onto tree bark to keep sapsuckers off.

Since woodpeckers search for insects under the bark, it is also important to remove dead or storm-damaged branches in order to eliminate harborage for boring insects.

If you're concerned about holes in your tree, have a certified arborist inspect it.

Related Blog Posts

Do Deer Eat Leyland Cypress
Property Maintenance & Landscaping

How to Protect & Repair Trees from Animals: Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels

Your trees are staples in your yard, and while you welcome wildlife, you’d hate to see them destroy these strong, sturdy plants in your yard. Here is how to protect your trees from animals.
Read More
Fall Landscape Checklist Leaves 497X330
Property Maintenance & Landscaping

5 Smart Steps for a Winter-Ready Landscape

Read More

Sign Up For Free Tree & Landscaping Tips! 

Subscribe to the "The Sapling," the Davey Blog's email newsletter, for the latest tips to keep your outdoor space in tip-top shape throughout the year.

Plus, receive a free instant download of our landscape seasonal checklists when you sign up!

Get In Touch With Us!

We pride ourselves at Davey Tree on providing prompt, professional and personalized service from certified arborists that live, work and engage in your community. Contact one of our Davey Tree specialists for your residential, commercial, utility, or environmental needs.

Let's Find What
You're Looking For!

Davey uses cookies to make your experience a great one by providing us analytics so we can offer you the most relevant content. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. View our Privacy Policy for more information.