|First sign of Sapsucker damage.|
Culprit? A Sapsucker. A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) to be exact. See photo?
Yes, I know he's cute.
That's why I've put the Arkive.org photo up so you can follow the link and see lots of cute photos of Sapsuckers. <sigh>
But for my trees... .he/she and they - the world of sapsuckers - are LETHAL.
Contrary to some of the cheery "answers" I've seen on garden forums, Sapsuckers are not harmless to trees. They do "eat" trees, and are not purely insect eaters like their woodpecker relatives. Sapsuckers' main diet is tree sap and the tender inner bark (cambium) of trees they select, although they are happy to snap up any insects they find trapped in the sap from yesterday's feeding.
Let me show you what a serious Sapsucker invasion can do over a couple of years.
|My largest Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) next to the gate.|
|Vertical lines of Sapsucker damage.|
You can also see how the bird moves steadily up and down the branch. Sapsuckers, being woodpeckers, are happiest when clinging to a vertical branch. Interestingly, we've noticed that they will peck out the sides or bottom of a branch rather than the top.
The lines you see crossing the photo are fishing line - one of the suggestions I found in a forum for deterring sapsucker damage. I turned the entire lower part of the tree into a fishline cobweb! It worked to an extent but the little bugger was excellent at finding any branch not obstructed by line. In addition, I wanted the small birds to be able to get into the tree for protection, so the higher, smaller branches were not protected. Small branches are less sapsucker-desirable anyway.
|Old holes that have filled with scar tissue.|
Not "healed", just scabbed over.
Notice that there is some newer damage along the right side of the healed area. You can see the depth of the holes before the tree filled them in with scabby scar tissue.
I coated all the first damage with candle wax in an attempt to protect the open tissue and discourage the sapsucker from continuing to drill and damage the area. That also worked, after a fashion, for a few months.
|New damage. Note increasing size of excavated holes.|
This work was done in the last three days. Notice the SIZE of the holes the sapsucker is carving! I've watched the bits of bark and wood fall as he's excavating and eating the tender, juicy inner tissue.
Loquats have thin, smooth bark and a very soft inner cambium. The sap is very sweet - something I never would have known had the Sapsucker not left oozing holes everywhere. When I read that they are a scourge of sugar maple stands, I tasted the sap - and, sure enough, it was quite sweet. This explained the sapsucker's obsession with this variety of tree!
Take a another good look at the size of these holes. This is not "minor" damage - as some of the bird sites imply/ There is almost no cambium left to carry food/water to the branches above. It's not hard to see that this level of damage is going to kill the lovely tree you see in the top photo. I spent a decade growing this tree and one @#$% bird is going to kill it. Argghhhh!
OK - For anyone else fighting this miserable bird - cute, yes, but absolutely a MISERY in the garden - here is what I've tried so far:
Webbing the tree with light fishing line. This actually seemed to protect some of the areas where it became difficult for the Sapsucker to fly in without hitting line. It looks a bit strange (this is a very visible tree right where one walks into our garden) but that was okay. On the other hand, the results were limited - the 'sucker figured it out in time and I worried about the other birds trying to get into the tree in bad weather. The line is still up and I add to it, but I'm not convinced it's the answer.
Tanglefoot, a sticky goo, applied to the bottoms of horizontal branches and the sides of vertical trunks that the 'sucker seemed to prefer attacking. (There was no need to put it on top because this bird doesn't seem to go there and I wanted other birds to be able to perch.) Maybe this worked a little? Hard to tell. Definitely made a huge mess. Damaged continued.
Wrapping all of the larger trunks and branches with paper tree wrap. Believe it or not, the dratted bird actually pecked and tore through the wrap to get at areas it wanted. All it accomplished was providing a covered place where ants and beetles could get to the damaged areas and mold could grow in the open holes.
Between the sticky tanglefood, the torn tree wrap and the multicolored candle wax protecting damaged areas (what can I say? It was after Christmas and I had dozens of red and colored candles to melt and use)... the entire tree was becoming a total mess.
Spraying the trunks with horticultural oil, blended with Cinnamite - this didn't work either, but may offer some protection against the insects and diseases that move into the damaged areas.
Oh, and did I mention that I also tried the online suggestion of adding bright windchimes and other hanging things to frighten the Sapsucker? (No, they didn't work, either.)
Really, I should have taken more photos. My loveliest tree has become a disaster.
So, has ANYTHING worked so far?
Right now I have only one remedy that has even slowed down the Sapsucker invasion.
I rub all the trunks and branches all over with lots of plain old dishwashing soap. It was a last ditch inspiration. I was going to add rat poison to the soap but, after all, killing Sapsuckers is a Federal offense. (Go figure.) The soap is harmless. It's not going to kill other birds that sit in the tree or murder my dogs or chickens should they wander under the loquat or eat any of the vegetation that might get coated after a rain. Every time I find a new area of damage, I coat that trunk with undiluted liquid dish soap, making it as foul tasting as possible.
I'm planning to keep it up as long as I have to.
I have the cleanest loquat in town.
One good downpour and it's going to look like a bubble bath.
Unfortunately, I don't have the time to do this for all of the trees. I'm probably just moving the Sapsucker to the younger Loquats down the line.
Finally, here's my plea - if anyone reading this blog post has found a way to deter these birds, please, please add a comment or send me an email and share your solution(s). Truly. I'm getting discouraged and desperate. Is there no way at all I can save these trees?