Sapsucker Injury on Trees in Westchester

It seems that in recent years we’ve noticed a definite increase in sapsucker damage in suburban landscape settings.  Almost every property I visit seems to have varying levels of sapsucker activity.  Today I’m going to share what to look for when identifying sapsucker injury on trees in Westchester.


Greg Schneider Photography

Sapsucker Migration

The sapsucker (Sphyrapicus Varius), is a migratory bird and is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. Since they are migratory, most of the damage they do to trees occur between the months of April and early October, in the Westchester area.

The Sapsucker’s Diet


via Larkwire

As their name implies, the sapsucker’s diet is primarily comprised of tree sap, though they do eat insects as well.  There are more than 250 known woody plants that sapsuckers feed on; some common species are Sugar maples, Norway spruce, White pine birch and Holly.  Sapsucker damage can be found both on branches and trunks of trees, which can cause a die back on affected limbs, as well as overall poor tree health.  Tree damage from sapsuckers can range from light to severe. 

You can hear the sound of the sapsucker drumming (or pecking) up to 600 feet away on a calm day.  This noise is a pattern of quick repetitive beats followed by a series of slower tapping.

Identifying Tree Damage



Sapsuckers make neat evenly-spaced holes in horizontal lines that start off about 1/4 inch in diameter and are expanded as the sap sucker revisited the holes to feed.  They can make as few as one or two lines or several depending on their preference for the sap they feed on; this can often resemble a grid like pattern.  Holes from the sapsucker’s feeding may be round or rectangular.  Damaged areas can have excessive sap flow, resulting in black staining which occurs due to the colonization of sooty mold.

Management and Control

Physical barriers are an effective way to manage and control sapsucker injury on your trees.  Various materials may be used such as burlap or a special tree tape which can be placed over the areas of recent sapsucker damage to deter further feeding.  

Visual deterrents such as strips of reflective tape or metal spiral strips which twirl in the breeze create a negative stimuli for the bird.  Predator decoys such as fake owls scare sapsuckers off as well; small metal wind chimes are effective as well.

BirdXPeller Pro

BirdXPeller Pro via

Sound deterrents or noise makers are effective in staving off sapsuckers too.  BirdXPeller Pro by Bird X is an electric distress call system, which features motion sensors to scare the bird.

Westchester Tree Life is here to assist in monitoring, evaluating and helping to manage the threat of sapsuckers to your valuable trees and woody plants.  If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call us at (914) 238-0069!

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