The sapsuckers are a small group of woodpeckers, the most common and widespread of which is the Yellow-bellied sapsucker. Their name is given to them due to their diet of tree sap, which they access by drilling holes in the bark of selected trees. They also may gather insects that are drawn to the sap as well and feed these to their young during nesting season. The damage can be identified as small holes drilled in horizontal rows around the trunk, often with many of these rows occurring up and down that trunk. This may lead to reduced flow of nutrients within the tree and eventually to complete girdling. Damaged trunks and branches are severely weakened, increasing the chances for limbs to die and fall. Unlike other woodpeckers the sapsuckers do not “drum” on hard surfaces and tend not to drill into structural wood.
Woodpeckers are classified as migratory, non-game animals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and often further protected under state or provincial laws. They cannot be harmed without specific permission from regulatory and wildlife agencies and only then with good reason for doing so. For long term management exclusion is the preferred option, installing physical materials that prevent the birds from being able to drill into the trunks of valuable trees. This most often may be hardware cloth or burlap wrapped around the susceptible areas of the trunk and major branches. The birds will also concentrate on a favored tree, so leaving that tree available to them may reduce their attention on other trees nearby. Various kinds of fright devices may have a temporary effect to scare birds away, but the birds typically become accustomed to the devices and ignore them. Repellents, according to University resources, will be generally ineffective. Sticky repellents can be applied to valuable trees if they are not going to cause any other negative effects.