Sapsucker Versus Woodpecker

Holes in my trees…most commonly blamed bird woody the woodpecker!

Both are birds indeed but both do different damages.  I have had a few calls from landowners curious as to how they can keep the woodpeckers away from their beautiful yard trees.  I ask them what kind of trees they have as well as the overall health.  Sapsuckers enjoy maples and oaks, woodpeckers do not discriminate with species so much they just enjoy the dying or dead trees where the larvae and other bugs are.  So if the tree is a maple or an oak and in good health its more likely to be a sapsucker.  If the tree is already showing signs of decay and dieback it could be our friend woody the woodpecker.  If It is still hard for me to guess over the phone I ask the one sure fire question.  Are they tiny holes in horizontal rows? If I get a yes its sappy the sapsucker and if no they are random large holes its woodpecker damage.

Sapsuckers (Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in Michigan) form lots of small holes in horizontal lines.  This allows for sap to flow out which they feed on.  Other animals benefit from this and feed on the sap as well.  Sapsuckers also feed on insects and suet.  So I guess if you want to protect your trees hang bunches and bunches of suet cakes in the tree!

Extensive sapsucker damage will eventually kill the tree if it is not strong.  It is cutting off the flow of water and nutrients in the cambium layer.

Woodpeckers are considered the 3rd sign of a trees death.  They normally go after weak trees that are already dying.  They are in search for all the insects and larvae burrowing around under the bark of trees. They are looking for beetles, spiders, centipedes “Nom Nom Nom”!  Many woodpeckers help control the populations of invasive or other pests that are destructive to the forest.    Woodpeckers will also feed on nuts, seeds, and suet.

The only way I know of controlling these birds, to keep them from coming back to landowners trees is to put reflective things up in the tree or by the house.  Old cds or mirrors hanging in the branches is what I suggest, but its not full- proof.   I did have one landowner call back and say she cut up old pop cans; creative.

If you see a white butted bird fly away from your tree robin size…chances are you are watching a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker fly away!!! 

Sapsucker Damage
Sapsucker Damage
Sapsucker-Horizontal hole lines
Sapsucker-Horizontal hole lines
Woodpecker- large holes randomly along tree
Woodpecker- large holes randomly along tree

Oak Wilt Update

I do not discriminate against age, size, or strength; I will attack any red oak and kill it. -Oak Wilt

Back in April I knew I would be doing some outreach for oak wilt and needing to research it more extensively in order to help out a few of my landowners and answer questions.  However, I never did expect what has happened.  I had written a couple overview articles on oak wilt for the local papers just to get the word out there to stop pruning their oaks, do not injure or cut oaks from the time of April- July 15th.  Immediately after the news releases the phone calls and emails came flooding in. All leveled off and I began to settle down for a little bit.  Most of those calls were just folks who had trees die last year.  Now, when I say a little bit I meant it.  Soon after that the newly infected trees started to “flag” show signs of wilting.  Oh my goodness, I had no idea what I was in for.  One of my counties is heavily covered with oak wilt, controlling this and stop it from spreading to the surround counties is key- but is it ideal?!  Anyways, LOOOONG story short my new job is Oak Wilt! It is widespread, depressing and hard to control.  I say depressing because once infected- tree is dead- too many dead beautiful oaks!!!!!

A couple weeks ago, I got to enjoy a one on one training with one of the oak wilt guru’s in Michigan.  I set up a property where I was pretty sure it was oak wilt and so was he.  We showed up at my landowners property- hatches in hand and started banging on the the dead trees.  First, we were looking for cracks in the the bark, then would test with the hatchet to see if it was hollow.  If yes, you start going at the trunk of the tree with the hatchet taking off the bark and revealing this dark football shaped “pressure pad”.  The pressure pad forms the following spring after the tree has flagged and kicked the bucket! It often will have a sweet smell attracting the beetles.  The pressure pad and its nasty spores are the last fighting chance for the disease to spread! Anyways, back to my experience with the oak wilt guru, enough about pressure pads! After we located the pressure pads, we knew 100% it was oak wilt- that is the sure fire way to diagnose the site as oak wilt.  After that, we moved onto looking at a flagging tree.  We cut off a branch that had some healthy leaves left as well as some wilted ones.  Inside you could see a black ring around outer layer, the cambium.   This is the fungus clogging up the water vessels of the branches and trunk.

This is a deadly and relatively fast spreading disease.  It is hard to manage at a large scale and costly at small and large scale.  The best thing to do is preventive measures.  Do not prune or injure oaks during the critical period of April-July 15th and never move firewood!  As I sit here and type that, I cannot help but giggle- the movement of firewood is still going to happen.  A fallen tree could be in the forest and someone goes and cuts it for firewood and never stop to think oh, why is this tree dead in the first place- and transfers the disease wherever that wood goes…

In Michigan the Conservation Districts, DNR, and MSUE are all working together to GPS track and try to fight this or least slow the spread.

“My lawn looks like fall- I have oak wilt.”  …….sigh

This tree is "flagging" turning brown from the leaves wilting from lack of water.
This tree is “flagging” turning brown from the leaves wilting from lack of water.
Pressure "spore" pad of Oak Wilt
Pressure “spore” pad of Oak Wilt
Pressure Pads
Pressure Pads
Water vessels are clogged with fungus
Water vessels are clogged with fungus (black outer ring)
Death Valley- all dead- no discrimination
Death Valley- all dead- no discrimination (live trees are red pine, no oak spared)