Rows of holes in trees caused by sapsucking birds

Brian Jarvis Ask the Gardener

IIt was on my big holly but when I looked at it the other day I noticed a lot of very organized holes in one area of ​​the trunk, maybe 50 or so. lining up. What is causing this? — JY

Sounds like you’re talking about the damage to holly from the yellow-bellied supsucker. Although its name sounds more like an old cartoon name than an actual creature, it is a very real woodpecker related to woodpeckers. Those holes are one way the supsucker feeds.

Sapsuckers feed on a variety of insects (including ants), fruits, and berries, but in this case they seek tree sap. Line them up and drill them open. In doing so, they are creating small sap wells. These holes reach into the bark at a depth sufficient to reach the phloem layer of tree cells. These small sap wells are filled with these sugar transfers, allowing the sapsucker to visit and eat at this feeding site multiple times.

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Sapsuckers are migratory birds, with males arriving at breeding grounds before females. Courtship involves bragging by males trying to impress females by pointing their beaks up to show off their brightly colored throat feathers.

Nests are usually built in tree cavities such as aspen, poplar, or birch. Sapsuckers tend to return to the same tree for years, but rarely use the same burrow. Their nests can be found anywhere in trees between 6 and 60 feet above the ground.

Females tend to lay 5 to 6 eggs, with males and females taking turns incubating the eggs. Men tend to work night shifts. After about a month, the chicks are ready to leave the nest and the parents begin teaching them how to eat sap.

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There are over 250 species of woody plants that sapsuckers eat, including pecans, maples, pines, elms, apples, and holly. So I’m not very picky. This kind of damage can make the tree more susceptible to disease.

To keep scissors out of your favorite tree, wrap a piece of metal cloth or burlap around the damaged area. The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits shooting sapsuckers, and the reality is that even if you eliminate the bird in question, other birds may repopulate the area.

Most of the time, we can enjoy the amazing precision and engineering skills of these birds without worrying too much about trees.

Call the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stop by the Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or email for all gardening questions. can get the answer.

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