Talking Trees with Davey Tree

Wood Borers and Woodpeckers – Helping or Hurting?

May 11, 2023 The Davey Tree Expert Company Season 3 Episode 19
Wood Borers and Woodpeckers – Helping or Hurting?
Talking Trees with Davey Tree
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Talking Trees with Davey Tree
Wood Borers and Woodpeckers – Helping or Hurting?
May 11, 2023 Season 3 Episode 19
The Davey Tree Expert Company

Lou Meyer, business developer for Davey’s mid-Atlantic region, talks about wood borers, woodpeckers and when to be concerned about both.  

In this episode we cover:  

  • Lou’s thoughts on woodpeckers (1:00) 
  • What you can do to protect your trees from woodpeckers (3:50) 
  • Sapsucker season and should you wrap your trees? (4:40) 
  • Pileated woodpeckers and why they peck (5:31)  
  • The different types of woodpeckers and should you be concerned about them (7:14) 
  • Lou’s thoughts on woodborers (8:45)  
  • Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and what it does (9:25)  
  • The devastation EAB causes and how it has changed urban forestry (10:30) 
  • Is there any hope for ash trees? (13:05)  
  • The Bronze Birch Borer (14:30) 
  • Why borers are attracted to trees (15:33)  

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.  

To learn more about woodpecker damage to your tree, read our blog, Spotted Woodpecker Damage on Your Tree? Here’s what to do. 

To learn more about Emerald Ash Borer, read our blog, The 101 on Emerald Ash Borer

To learn more about wood borers, read our blog, Tree Borers: Signs of Tree Boring Insects.  

Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
Twitter: @DaveyTree
Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company 

Connect with Doug Oster at www.dougoster.com

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at podcasts@davey.com. We want to hear from you!    

 

Show Notes Transcript

Lou Meyer, business developer for Davey’s mid-Atlantic region, talks about wood borers, woodpeckers and when to be concerned about both.  

In this episode we cover:  

  • Lou’s thoughts on woodpeckers (1:00) 
  • What you can do to protect your trees from woodpeckers (3:50) 
  • Sapsucker season and should you wrap your trees? (4:40) 
  • Pileated woodpeckers and why they peck (5:31)  
  • The different types of woodpeckers and should you be concerned about them (7:14) 
  • Lou’s thoughts on woodborers (8:45)  
  • Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and what it does (9:25)  
  • The devastation EAB causes and how it has changed urban forestry (10:30) 
  • Is there any hope for ash trees? (13:05)  
  • The Bronze Birch Borer (14:30) 
  • Why borers are attracted to trees (15:33)  

To find your local Davey office, check out our find a local office page to search by zip code.  

To learn more about woodpecker damage to your tree, read our blog, Spotted Woodpecker Damage on Your Tree? Here’s what to do. 

To learn more about Emerald Ash Borer, read our blog, The 101 on Emerald Ash Borer

To learn more about wood borers, read our blog, Tree Borers: Signs of Tree Boring Insects.  

Connect with Davey Tree on social media:
Twitter: @DaveyTree
Facebook: @DaveyTree
Instagram: @daveytree
YouTube: The Davey Tree Expert Company
LinkedIn: The Davey Tree Expert Company 

Connect with Doug Oster at www.dougoster.com

Have topics you'd like us to cover on the podcast? Email us at podcasts@davey.com. We want to hear from you!    

 

Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davey Tree Expert Company's Podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborists share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborists' favorite trees, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more because here at The Talking Trees Podcast, we know trees are the answer. He is back again. Our friend Lou Meyer works as a regional business developer for Davey in Maryland. Today we're talking all about borers, woodpeckers, and all sorts of other fun stuff. How are you doing, Lou?

Lou: I am doing great today, Doug. It's so wonderful to be back on the show. I've been listening to a lot of the recent episodes, and you've been turning out some great ones, so it's-- [crosstalk]

Doug: The last time we talked, we were actually in person in Baltimore at the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show, and that was a lot of fun. When you're thinking woodpeckers, I'm thinking it's a negative, but you tell me.

Lou: Yes. We get calls all the time from homeowners and business owners concerned about woodpecker damage to their trees. Sometimes they see the birds on the trees, sometimes they just see the damage afterwards and assume that it's a woodpecker. There are two big families of woodpeckers to note when we're talking about this: one is your traditional woodpeckers, the pileated, the red-headed, a lot of those, and then the sapsuckers. Both of them operate in different ways. Some woodpeckers even feed off the ground, not even off of trees.

The way you could tell the difference between the two is the randomness of the drill holes. Sapsuckers create very horizontal patterns in your bark. If you see a line of holes that looks like someone just took a drill punch and punched it along, that's a sapsucker. Woodpeckers, which sapsuckers are part of, but woodpeckers are a little more general in their activity, and they're both trying to do different things.

Sapsuckers, let's talk about them first. They're the ones that we do have a little bit of concern over. Again, when you see horizontal holes, just a pattern of them, those birds are trying to puncture the tree in order to get the sap flowing. They'll feed off the sap, they'll feed off of insects, and they'll feed off of insects that are feeding on the sap. They're really setting traps for them.

Doug: I have a pine tree, and it's down, but when it was up, that's what it had. It is a pine tree, one of the trees that they'd be after had just these horizontal little holes all through it.

Lou: Yes. They'll go after pines, they love deodar cedars, they love pear trees and cherry trees, things that create a lot of sap. They're sapsuckers. The danger with this bird, so A, it's a protected bird, you're not going to do anything about it. You can't go out and shoot them, and we have zero interest in doing that in the industry anyways. The danger is that if it's a really heavy pressure, if you have a small tree or a large tree with a lot of pressure on it, they can girdle the tree.

All of those holes they're pecking in there can disrupt the sap flow, disrupt the nutrient flow from the roots into the leaves, and cause the tree to go into decline. Now, that's very rare. These birds have evolved with the trees so that they're a natural part of our environment. We find balance in nature and these birds are part of it. It's just when you get those really heavy infestations of them that it can be an issue. What you can do at that point, Doug, is you can wrap materials around the tree.

If you have a specimen deodar cedar in your front yard, just gorgeous, it ties the property together, and you see sapsuckers just hitting it, you can wrap landscape fabric around them, mesh. One thing I will say is if you have burlap sacks around it, you want to take that off in the summertime. You don't want the moisture to be gathering around the trunk, otherwise, there's fear of decay basically setting in. They will come back to the same tree every year, so if you wrap it for a few years in a row, you may deter them to go elsewhere.

Doug: How long would I leave that protection on? Does the sapsucker have a season for this, or it's all summer long?

Lou: This is a national broadcast, so I got to say it depends on where you're at. Here in the Mid-Atlantic where I am, sapsuckers are migrational. During the summer, they're here, so put it up in the spring and in the fall and take it off during the hot, hot heat of the summer. Again, if you're using sacks-- if you are using mesh, you could leave it up all summer. It's not going to pop up overnight, so you don't have to protect your trees in advance. You don't even need to protect your trees if you see some activity. If it gets to the point where it's really heavy, and I know that's subjective, but you talk to an arborist and have them come out and take a look at the tree, and we will recommend at what point do you need to put up protection?

Doug: Let's talk about that pileated because I love that woodpecker. That's the one that they modeled the woody woodpecker after a really big one, and boy, there's no mistaking the hole that that makes.

Lou: Yes. The pileated is huge. Those can get up to 14 inches, I believe in height. They're giant. No, it sounds like a jackhammer's going off in your backyard when they into town. Those woodpeckers outside of sapsuckers, other woodpeckers are cavity dwellers, so they need to create cavities for them to nest inside, whether it's in a tree or a fence post. If you have cedar siding on your house, could be an issue as well. They also use their drumming against the trees as a communication tool. In the spring, during mating season, when you hear that drumming, it might not just be them pecking holes, they're making the noise of love, if you will, and they're also going after insects.

When you see those birds on your trees, they're not causing damage, but they could be a sign of other issues in the tree, specifically inner decay. These woodpeckers that are pecking holes in your trees to try and create cavities, they're looking for soft spots, we call it punky wood, that they can easily excavate and create a house inside of. When you see them really going to town on a tree, there's a good chance that there's inner decay that they're not causing, but they're showing you is present.

Doug: Let's talk about downys, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied, red-headed woodpeckers, is that all the same as affiliated, or there's something different with them?

Lou: Yes. They'd fall into the same level of concern as affiliated, no real concern. If you see them all over a tree, there's probably some issues already in the tree, but they're not going to cause damage to the tree, be honest that aesthetic. Now, are there going to be some outlier cases? Yes. I'm not going to say there's absolutely zero concern, but there should be no concern from a homeowner or a business owner that has a tree on their site that is a host tree to pileated, downys, red-headed, or any of the others.

Doug: I know you're a nature lover like I am, and I just want to tell you a little pileated story. They're very shy. Most of the times we hear them as opposed to seeing them. I just happen to be sitting in the garden one day, this is years ago, and I watched four of them chasing each other around and around up a tree in some type of mating thing, and I just thought it was the most amazing thing to see. That is a bird that once you see it, you'll never mistake it for its size and color.

Lou: Oh, yes. Their personality's tremendous. Shy, like you said, but once you see them, they're active, they flit around. They're pretty cool. You could bring them in with suets. Suet will attract those pretty well.

Doug: Let's go to the borers, which I know they have to be a negative, right?

Lou: Yes. Borers on the other hand are something to be of concern. Love the woodpeckers, don't love the borers. Although they're natural parts of our environment, that's the thing that we got to remember. Again, nature tries to find a balance. In our industry, we're not fighting the balance, but we are trying to control it somewhat, right? Because we do treat for borers and we look for borers, but again, a lot of them are native parts of our environment that are here for a reason.

There's four main borers that I would talk about to anyone in the United States, things that we see across the board. Now, again, there's specific regions that might be outliers, but the big one, and I know we've talked about it on the show before, is emerald ash borer. The EAB came into the United States, we first recognized it back in the early 2000s up in the Detroit region, and it has spread from there. I think right now it goes, and again, this is May of 2023, as far west into Colorado. The emerald ash borer indiscriminately kills ash trees 99.8 mortality rate. There are some treatments if you catch it early enough to ward off this pest but it it's a species destroyer. That's the emerald ash borer. Go ahead.

Doug: Let's talk a little bit more about the emerald ash borer. First off, when you start to recognize it in your area, just talk about the devastation. This is like the chestnut tree. This is destroying a species. As an arborist when you realize that, talk about what that felt like.

Lou: When I when I first was introduced to it, I was working for Davey back in Cincinnati on a residential tree team doing tree work. Right now I'm in Maryland. Then I was a little closer to that epicenter of Detroit, and yes, we were just shocked to see all these ashes suddenly failing everywhere. We'd really didn't know how to approach it. What we found since then, 20 years since it's been around, has been remarkable. One, it's it could be very dangerous.

We have strict climbing rules about working on ashes and around ashes because they'd become very brittle and they could snap easily. It could be wild, so that the ashes are-- we're predominant species. We planted the heck out of them after the decline of the American elm. This is a story we haven't learned from, hopefully, we're learning from now. I think we are in urban forestry but we planted the heck out of elm trees as street trees back in the early 1900s because they're beautiful, they create that LA effect.

The Dutch elm disease took all those out and so we replanted all of those with ash trees because they're easy, they were indestructible, and they're fairly inexpensive, because of those reasons, and so we planted a ton of ash trees. Now we are once again in the place of removing entire blocks worth of trees. The silver lining, Doug, is that in the urban forestry realm, we are rethinking how we repopulate urban and suburban areas. We're looking at species mix.

We're looking at the different benefits that each species provides and how we can maximize that. An oak tree might not produce as much oxygen as a maple tree. I don't know this, I'm just using species as an example. Maybe the maple tree does better with pollution. Finding that ideal mix of species in our cities in our suburbs has been a great way to retool how we are reintroducing some of nature back into our areas. Before we

Doug: move away from the emerald ash borer is there any hope for emerging ashes or forget it?

Lou: No, that's a great question. Yes, we are showing that they're, like I said, 99.8%. Dan Herms with the Davey Institute gave me that number. He's one of the lead researchers on it, a fantastic resource. The 0.2% that are showing resistance we are cloning those and their offspring are showing even greater resistance. There is hope for the species. Unfortunately, I'm not going to see a lot of full-grown ashes. I do occasionally come upon those resistant species and it's like finding a unicorn. We take a ton of pictures, I send them all out to my arborist friends, and we celebrate a little bit, so it is cool to see those.

Doug: It's the same if you could find a chestnut or a big elm or something like that. They're out there. Now way before your time, there was a terrible drought in 1988, and that caused stress on birches which meant the borers went nuts on them. Talk about that borer and just the cultural things that can happen that can make a borer happy.

Lou: Yes, that was going to be my next one I was going to talk about. The bronze birch borer is another heavy hitter in the industry. Now this goes after-- primarily, his favorite meal, if you will, is the European birch. In introduced species, that's not to say that it's a lesser species. When we start talking about native versus exotic versus introduced species, I like to put weight on the native trees but they're all wonderful trees. Now once you start talking about exotic pest species and things like that, it's a whole different story. Cal repairs wreck them but they all have benefits. They produce oxygen, they're pretty, the aesthetic benefits of trees are great. The bronze birch borer prefers that European birch.

The good news is that the native river birch is one of the least susceptible species to the bronze birch borer, so great news for that. No. What you were saying about the drought causing the uptick in that, all of the borer species that we talk about in the industry, they are vectored into trees by trees putting out signals that they're in decline. When trees go into decline, they will release chemicals, usually methane, I believe, and the pests and other insects can pick up on that. Bores smell, for lack of a better word, sense that these trees are in decline, they vector into those trees, and they begin to feed on them.

We don't know why exactly this happens, we don't know why trees put these chemicals out. In my simple way, I like to think that it's a very selfless act. The tree knows it's in decline, it wants to return its nutrients to the soil for the trees around it, and so it calls in the wrecking crew to complete the job. It's probably a complete farce but I like to think that. Yes, these bores pick up on those chemicals, they come in, and they do damage the trees. Droughts can do that, also too much water.

Right now in the Mid-Atlantic, we're seeing a huge decline in oak trees, and a big portion of that is from ambrosia beetle. We can trace a lot of that decline. Back to 2018, we had a record rainfall. People think, oh, it's just droughts that hurt trees. A lot of rain can really hurt trees also because that water forces air out of the soil, then the soil collapses. Tiny pockets of air that trees need for oxygen and other things collapses. When you have super saturated soils they result in compacted soils and compacted soils don't allow oxygen or water back into them as easily.

We had record rainfall in 2018. It really affected these trees to the point where they were pushing out methane. The ambrosia beetles were coming in. We do have native ambrosia beetles that, again, are part of nature's "wrecking crew", for lack of better words. We also have introduced ambrosia beetles. These beetles come in, they bore into the trees. You can tell if it's ambrosia beetles by the frass. As they're boring into the holes, they're pushing out their frass, their excrement, their insect poop mixed with sawdust and it looks like spaghetti coming out.

Ambrosia beetles have very tightly compacted frass so it looks like spaghetti's coming out the side of your tree. Other people say toothpicks, I like spaghetti. Not only is the insect affecting that cambium, the nutrient transfer section of the tree, it also brings in a fungus. The ambrosia beetle actually feeds on the fungus. It introduces the fungus to the tree and then feeds on that fungus because the fungus needs the tree to grow and expand. That fungus works its way into that cambium and really hurts the tree.

Doug: That's great news.

Lou: It's not great news for the trees. The takeaway for boars that I tell everyone is if trees are happy and healthy. They naturally fight off the boars, except for those outliers, the emerald ash boar, the Asian long-horned beetle's another one. Long-horn beetles are boar beetles. We have native ones, the ALB. The Asian longhorned beetle is and has been for a while the next one on the horizon of what's going to take out our forest. That Asian longhorned beetle we have quarantined into two areas in the United States right now.

Davey does a lot of work with the Department of Agriculture with those projects but they'll affect, I want to say 13 species of trees, including the elms, the plane trees and the sycamores poplars willows, and a lot of maples. There's really no cure for that right now. Aside from the Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash boar, a lot of these beetles are opportunistic. They'll go after trees that are in stress. If you have an arborist coming out to your property regularly, if you have your trees and a plant health care plan where they're getting the nutrients they need, you're getting the water recommendations you need, they're getting the plant healthcare that you need, your trees are much better able to survive and thrive in an environment where boars are present.

Caring for your trees is a lot like caring for your children or your pets or other living beings. A lot of times we see them, and I say this all the time, people see your trees as an accessory to your house, like a roof or a driveway where every few years we'll get repaid, we'll put some shingles on. They're living beings, they take a lot of input, but they give a lot of benefits. You just need to monitor them.

Doug: Lou, I know you would put a positive spin on that. That's what I was waiting for. That's a good place to finish today. Always great to talk to you, my friend, and appreciate that great information, buddy.

Lou: It's great to be here, Doug. Thanks for letting me talk some trees with you. Have a wonderful day.

Doug: It's always great to talk to Lou, that's for sure. Now tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees Podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Next week, we take on an important topic, the rise of a problem called beech leaf disease. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. If you've got an idea or a comment about what we're doing here, send me an email to podcasts, that's plural, @davey.com. That's P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S at D-A-V-E-Y.com. As always, we'd like to remind you on the Talking Trees Podcast, trees are the answer.

[00:21:54] [END OF AUDIO]