On closer inspection, the young Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) situated closest to the bird bath had some buds that were rather small compared to the other side.
Strangely enough, being so close, the tree benefits from having extra waterings with us refilling and cleaning the bird bath frequently. So it isn't lack of moisture.
The needle buds on the other side are twice the size. These are still tight.
Seeing only two holes on the one side, I couldn't figure out why some of the needles were drooping and the buds were smaller.
It wasn't until I walked around to the other side, when I saw this severe damage. Wow. This is not just woodpecker damage, but a feeding site of the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. Looking in our bird-book, we noticed our location is one of the stomping grounds for this migratory bird to pass through. Lovely to see, but wow, such damage for such a little feathered visitor.
They feed on the sap flowing in spring. They make these distinctive sap-wells, all in a row. Many insects get stuck in the gooey sap and I am sure they add flavour to the Sapsucker's meal! It may marvel you on how they feed, but our poor tree...
What to do now?
Noticing squirrels are interested in this damage, we decided to take action and cover the wounded area. Burlap was our choice. It's breathable, readily available and like a cloth bandage, we want to be able to remove it, in order to monitor it. This way, we can clean out any debris and or insects so the plant can seal off those wounds on its own.
One long strip - the width of the damage, only wrapped around once - tied off taut.
You can use bird tanglefoot products that you can spread over the area, to prevent more damage but I rather let the tree do its own restorative healing first. Since our area is along the Sapsuckers migratory path, I don't fear it will return to feed again.
Going to add some compost leaves from last autumn under the drip line of the tree - this will enrich the soil and help keep the roots from drying out too much. Given we are still experiencing a moist spring, any dry periods we will supplement with waterings. The more hydrated the tree will be, the better chance it will have to heal.
Will update you on the trees progress as it seals the wound. Fingers crossed.