Sunday, February 23, 2020

You Yellowbellied Sapsucker! Welcoming and Repelling Nature's Nuisances


     We love living out in the country and every day I am grateful for our quiet life out here. Along with the peace and quiet is the gift of nature and a menagerie of wildlife visiting our fields. We are entertained by the variety of birds, by watching hawks soar in the wind drafts, and seeing the does with their fawns every spring. Even hearing the spine shivering sound of coyotes at night has its entertainment value. What I do struggle with is when that wildlife and I come to odds.
     Obviously, I realize this abundant wildlife was here first and it cannot help but do what instinct commands it to do. Our goal is to not be a hindrance to our furry and feathered visitors. In fact we like to make their lives a little easier. We keep water out for birds, we plant flowers for bees, and throw old apples in the fields for deer to find. We steer clear of bird's nests in the spring and allow rabbits to burrow and make nests in our vegetable garden. We even leave the mice alone that winter over in the shed. But, there is a line (or two, no three...actually four lines) that I will not tolerate these cute animals to cross.
Number One: Mice are not allowed to nest in our lawnmower engine and chew up the wires.
Number Two: Deer are not allowed to eat my flowers and shrubs.
Number Three: If you mice think you're going to live inside the house, you are wrong.
Number Four: Kill our trees and I declare war.
     Over the years, we have discovered what works and what doesn't for keeping nature from crossing those four lines. Overall, I try to plant deer resistant varieties of flowers and shrubs. It's the best and easiest route to go. However, there are times that we are given plants and trees as gifts and there are some varieties that I would simply enjoy growing so, I need to be prepared.
     First off, mice in the house are going to die. In our younger years, Steve built soup-can mouse traps with spring loaded lids and we would catch and release those mice. But one year, we had such a large infestation of mice in the house that mousetraps had to be employed. The bottom line, spring loaded mouse traps work. The traps are awful and I hate to do it but, mice in the kitchen and in our food have to go. To date, we have not found anything that works to keep the mice out of our mower engine. We've tried mothballs, and aluminum foil wrapped around motor parts. Someone suggested peppermint oil and I bought some but we haven't tried it yet.
     To prevent deer and rabbits from eating our landscape plantings, I once tried hanging Irish Spring soap everywhere. When I was finished hanging it, the whole yard smelled like an Irish Spring. Apparently, it smelled so good that the little creatures nibbled the bars of soap. I found the tiniest teeth marks on the bars of soap. When that didn't work, I tried mixing up a concoction of garlic, eggs, and water to spray on trees and plants. It stank to high heaven. It may have worked but, it was so stinky and the globs of egg kept clogging the sprayer hose that I found it was too difficult to work with. I ended up finding a spray at our local co-op called, Deer Off. It works. The down side of Deer Off is that it has to be reapplied after heavy rains, but one bottle will last a season and it's worth the cost. Just try not to get it on your clothes because it stinks too.
     Our biggest challenge is that we are constantly at battle to keep the few trees that we have alive. The crab apple and decorative plum are always under attack by Japanese beetles. The crab apple are also prone to black spot and tent caterpillars. Another problem we've encountered is that the deer will rub their antlers on young trees in late summer and break the saplings down like toothpicks. The deer also nibble tender trees like our corkscrew willow. Our solution for the deer has been to wrap tree trunks with a little fence of chicken wire. The Deer Off prevents them from nibbling tender branches. To get the black spot under control, I sprayed an anti-fungal on the fruit trees. The Japanese beetles can't be controlled because those trees are too big to spray so the beetles will simply do their damage, much to my dismay.
     This year, we encountered a brand new, alarming nuisance for which we scrambled to control right away. We thought a woodpecker was damaging our three maple trees but, it turns out it is a sapsucker. Sapsuckers peck at trees like woodpeckers but, they are looking for sap and not bugs. Over the last year, that bird has done so much damage to our forty-foot maple tree that large branches are dead. It pecks holes all around the large branches to get at the sap and the scoring it creates around the branches is preventing those branches from being fed nutrients. Almost every time I looked out the window, I would see this bird pecking at the tree. It was literally killing our huge maple trees! I quickly researched some remedies and came up with this shiny reflective tape to try called Brite Way bird repellent tape. We tied it around the tree branches as far up as our ladder would reach. The idea is that the sparkles of light and crackly sound of the tape as it flutters in the breeze will repel woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and a few other varieties of birds. (It is very sparkly and it glints in the sun all the way to my eyes inside the house.) So far, I have not spotted the sapsucker on the tree again. Some folks also recommend placing an artificial owl or snake near the tree and I may do that as well. I hope this does the trick.
     As I walk our fields and take stock of what is going on, I can tell the moles are still happily in residence near the tree line because my feet sink down into their tunnels. The groundhogs have excavated some nice homes near the mailbox, and the birds are nesting in our front porch lights again. I also made a mental note that the raspberries have a root fungus and the insects that killed all the leaves on a new shrub will have to be identified and dealt with very soon. Spring is just around the corner and it surges with an energy that both delights and challenges.
     Finally, I read this morning that some friends in the county spotted a black panther in their neighbor's field. These folks are reliable sources whose word I trust. We have caught glimpses ourselves of "something" darting off the road once or twice in our seventeen years living here. At the time, it happened so quickly that we could only tell what it wasn't. It wasn't a dog, cat, fox, coyote, or any other animal familiar to us. One of them had a tail that was long like a cat's and it was dark colored. We never got a long enough look to identify it. Many folks have reported bobcats and panthers in the area so we strongly believe they exist. We certainly have had bears in the yard and each time has been exciting to see. I am in awe of the variety of nature with which we are blessed to coexist in our little corner of the world. I can only strive to stay out of their way as much as possible. My only request is that they don't kill the trees.



  1. Let me begin by saying I live in the city, but with a wooded area near by. Deer are a HUGE problem. It's not unusual to see a half dozen dear on my street. The last couple of years I have used the garlic, egg and hot sauce mixture to keep the them from eating my plants. I have a small yard and it has worked for me, but one needs to be diligent about reapplying after a rain. I'm with you on mice in the house. The first time I used the spring traps, I would start to cry when I heard one snap. It sounds like you have many more challenges to deal with than I do :) I hope you have found the answer to the sapsucker. I would not be happy, either.
    Black panther? WOW. Our most exotic animal is the coyote and I hear they have been spotted in a field just a couple houses from me. And skunks. A real problem.
    Good luck taking care of numbers 1-4 :)

  2. I've been wondering if I should name our new home "Woodpecker Haven" due to the vast array of these birds in our yard and surrounding woods. Downy, Red Bellied, Pileated, and most recently, the Sapsucker! Is there a way to discourage the sapsucker without running the little Downy's off? Or should I be discouraging them all? -Jen

  3. We have many of those same tree-loving birds and I hear them pecking on trees in the woods behind our house. I think it's our maple trees in particular that they prefer. Here in Virginia, I don't see many maples growing in the woods so our cultivated trees with all their luscious sap are too tempting to the sapsuckers. BTW, the reflective tape isn't working... : (