Q: There are lots of small holes in my Bradford pear, making several rings around the trunk. Is this a borer or a bird?
A: You are seeing the damage caused by a yellow-bellied sapsucker. This bird is a member of the woodpecker family and seems to come through Atlanta in the fall and in the spring. Pecans and maples are other favorite targets. The sapsucker pecks a small hole in the bark and licks the sap that oozes out. As he moves around the trunk, rings of holes around the trunk are made.
Even trees with hundreds of holes show little effect.
This seems to be a case where a pest knows how much damage can be done without destroying a source of food!
Following contributed by Mary T., Cherokee County Master Gardener
FROM THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY WEB SITE
“The four species of sapsuckers all drill small sap wells in regularly spaced rows or columns on tree trunks. They eat the exposed inner bark and cambium and drink the sugary sap that flows from these pits. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have been found to tap over 250 species of trees and vines. Sap composes up to 20 percent of their diet and is especially important in late summer and autumn, or any time when other food sources are scarce. During the breeding season, they forage in the manner of typical woodpeckers, flaking off bark chips or excavating insects in dead wood. They also sally from perches to catch flying insects in the manner of flycatchers. In early spring, buds are eaten, and from October to February, fruit and berries are significant.
FROM THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRD LIFE AND BEHAVIOR,
(from the section on foraging by woodpeckers) ” Some woodpeckers use more varied foraging techniques. Sapsuckers mainly eat the inner bark of trees, lap sap that oozes from small wells that the birds drill in a tree trunk, eat invertebrates trapped in the sap produced at these ‘sapsucker wells,’ and also flycatch invertebrates. Young sapsuckers learn to make wells by watching adults. There are also reports of Red-headed Woodpeckers wounding trees and eating the sap and inner bark.”
Since sapsucker holes seem to do little damage to trees, I do not recommend any control measures.
sapsucker damage, probably also some squirrel damage