MANHATTAN, Kan. – Tree trunks can acquire a horizontal, strangely regular-looking row(s) of shallow holes during spring. The vandalism can show up on almost any species, but the likely victims are pines, maples, birches, apples and pears.
Typically, tree owners worry that wood-boring insects are at work.
With rows, however, borers aren’t the problem, said Ward Upham, K-State Research and Extension horticulturist. Instead, it’s a woodpecker whose name – yellow-bellied sapsucker – many Americans think is a made-up, Looney Tunes-type insult.
“It really is a bird that has a yellowish breast, as well as a red cap. It makes holes so it can feed on the sap those wounds release, plus on the insects the sap attracts,” Upham said.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the same territory-protecting woodpecker that’s notorious for repeatedly banging its beak on metal – roof flashing, street sign, whatever resounds loudly.
“Its clanging a vent pipe on your roof can be better than an alarm clock – plus coffee,” he said.
The woodpecker also is well-known for ambitious migrations. It spends summer as far north as Alaska and winter as far south as Central America. Also, it’s more likely to fly though the East Coast than the Midwest.
“In Kansas, we usually have a few around from October to April, with moderate peaks during spring and fall,” Upham said. “They typically don’t do enough damage to threaten mature trees. At worst, they might girdle a sapling.”
However, yellow-bellied sapsuckers seem to find certain trees fascinating – even ignoring nearby trees of the same species, he said. So, if homeowners are worried about more damage next October, they can prepare a deterrent in September and keep it in place for several months (no longer). Options include wrapping the damaged trunk area in wire mesh or keeping it coated with Tanglefoot.
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
Story by: Kathleen Wardkward@ksu.eduK-State Research & Extension News
Ward Upham is at 785-532-1438