What Causes Holes in Trees?

What causes holes in trees? If unusual punctures have seemingly appeared in your beloved backyard giant overnight, you might find yourself worrying that something’s wrong.

As one of Birmingham’s trusted tree removal services, we at McDaniel Tree Services, LLC, are here to bring clarity to your concerning mystery. Keep reading as we break down the top culprits of tree holes and the best ways to address them.

holes in trees

Bark Beetles

Do you see especially tiny holes about the size of the tip of a pencil? Then you’ve probably got yourself a bark beetle or borer problem. These little critters have a voracious appetite for wood and can cause extensive damage to your trees

Other warning signs include:

  • Discolored foliage
  • Thinning canopy 
  • Frass or sawdust-like substance at the base of the tree
  • Discarded winged skins
  • Small tubes of sap
  • Musty odors, cankers, and other fungal disease symptoms

If bark beetles have made your tree their dinner, it’s important to consult an arborist. They can help you evaluate the extent of the damage and recommend the best course of action, which may include removing the infected tree to protect others in your yard. 

Clearwing Moths

What causes holes in trees about the size of a dime? You’re probably dealing with another sly intruder — the clearwing moth. The flying adults don’t directly cause damage; it’s their larvae that are the true culprits, burrowing into the trunk and disrupting the plant’s ability to transport water and nutrients.

They love to set up camp in various trees, including:

  • Maple
  • Ash dogwood
  • Cherry 
  • Juniper

Clearwings also prefer to target weakened plants, highlighting the importance of preventive measures like properly watering a newly planted tree. If you already have a full-blown insect infestation on your hands, it’s time to ring up the tree experts. Common treatments include injecting the tree with insecticide or using pheromone traps to disrupt the moths’ mating cycle. 


Seeing them in cartoons does little to convey the sheer destruction these feathered drillers can wreak on your trees. Woodpeckers peck holes in trees in their hunt for insects and to create nesting sites. If you spot a series of craters in a line or a larger, more noticeable cavity, you have a woodpecker to thank.

The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects woodpeckers, so it’s illegal and unethical to harm, capture, or kill them. Instead, consider these humane strategies to deter them:

  • Install shiny items like old CDs, aluminum foil strips, mylar flashing tape, or mirrors to scare the birds away
  • Apply safe and approved sticky repellents
  • Use netting, burlap, or hardware cloth as a physical barrier to preserve bark health

Consult a Local Expert

From sapsuckers to borer beetles, knowing what causes holes in trees is an excellent first step toward safeguarding your specimens. However, nothing can replace the knowledge and skill set of an experienced arborist. 

By hiring a tree service like McDaniel Tree Services, LLC, you can rest easy knowing we’ll get to the root of the problem. Give us a call at (205) 308-8270 today!

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