Birdpeck in Walnut

Woodpecker damage can be found deep inside some Walnut trees, and tends to concentrate within particular stands of trees or geographic areas. June 8, 2008

I posted this question previously, elsewhere on this site and a WOODWEB staff member suggested it would be a good idea to repost it here. I would like to know if anyone has experience with discovering "bird peck" in their saw logs. I have some veneer grade walnut, still on the stump, that a veneer buyer told me (he has not been to the site to look at the trees) would have bird peck because everything in my area has it.

This seems fishy to me. Even the DED did not wipe out every American elm. Some of them, albeit a small minority, remained unaffected while 99% of the others in the same forest would be wiped out.

It may be a silly comparison, but I just don't see how every walnut in my area, site unseen, can be said to contain bird peck. Any advice on how I can tell if a tree has it, while it is still on the stump?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
He is nearly 100% correct, in that an area will have a lot of bird peck, while another area will not. It can be identified from a careful inspection of the bark, in most cases. The bark imperfections are very slight.

From the original questioner:
He is saying that since my area does have it - all of the trees have it. I find it difficult to believe that every last black walnut tree in my county/area has it. I know they don't, because I mill them regularly.

I did Google the topic and read several articles. The pictures all showed damage from the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, a woodpecker, and the holes were very prominent and easy to identify. I have seen them in trees around here but never gave much thought.

It seems to me that without these holes, there is no bird peck. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse but can there be damage from these birds that is not visible on the bark, but becomes visible when the trees are opened up?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The damage to the bark will last for several decades in most cases. That is, you can see the damage on the bark. After 20 years, the damage has faded so that it’s not easy to detect anymore, but the damage is still in the wood. Wood damage never goes away.

From the original questioner:
I understand it now, the physical aspects of it at least. It means a hole is significant/deep enough that it becomes overgrown by new wood, leaving a fingerprint of the disturbed wood fibers, just as if the hole were a nail that that had been driven into the tree.

I could not visualize a "mere hole in the bark" doing this much permanent damage so I was under the false impression that it would only degrade the log a certain percentage of the outer wood. My perception was that a veneer slicer would produce layers of wood not affected by the defect, unless the trees were riddled with holes its entire life.

But this is not the case with these trees and what leaves lingering doubt in my mind. One reason is because there is no recent activity on these logs (although in hindsight I have noticed it on other trees in these same woods); my novice and perhaps naive perspective is that if there is no visible damage, there is a possibility there may have never been any.

With the mindset that "If there is a history of it in a given area then the assumption will always be valid..." would say to me that at least to some extent every region of the country where this and other such species of birds exists the trees in that region must be assumed to have been attacked at some point during their lifespan. This is not a reasonable assumption to me, and if I am understanding one of your comments correctly, you don't believe it is either.

Another reason I believe they do not have it and an even more compelling one in my mind, is because I have milled walnut logs from these same two stands, and since I have posed this question, and looked at examples of bird peck from images online, I have inspected many of the boards from logs taken from both areas, and while I do see defects such as knots, pin size to large, and a full array of other common defects associated with grade logs, I do not see anything close to what bird peck looks like from any of the examples.

So if I assume the role of buyer, am I likely to say to a seller, "Bird peck is not necessarily evident from milling limber on a bandsaw and can remain hidden in thick boards. Your logs come from a region that is known to have logs with bird peck therefore we must assume they have it despite the clear milled lumber."?

I know there is not an objective answer to this and I am not asking for you to prep me for negotiating a sale. But if I could impose on your patience just a step further I would like your opinion on the matter for my future knowledge. Notwithstanding the final disposition of these particular trees as well.

From contributor K:
Personally, I like seeing the pecks and black streaks in the lumber, and always point out to my customers that sapsuckers caused them. I normally don't charge extra for them, although I have been thinking about it. If I had some lumber that was just loaded with pecks, I'll bet you I could charge extra for it.

I have never had anyone say they found it objectionable. Most people will find it intriguing when they know the cause.

However, I know that the P/W manufactures, will want everything to be consistent, and since the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker is only in our area during the winter. While it is not unusual to see where they work the same tree for five or six seasons, then there may be a space of ten or twenty years before another generation works the same tree again, so this would mean grading the plywood into another grade for each species, and the density of spots throughout a log.

From contributor S:
"Bird peck" in walnut logs can be a serious, (and expensive) problem. I've bought logs that look great, but the lumber is full of small defects that are really ingrown bark. Sometimes bird peck is easy to see, sometimes not.

Look at the end of the log for small black marks in the wood. This is what the veneer buyer will look for. You may have to spray the end of the log off with water or slice a thin piece of it off to expose fresh wood.

You also need to find another veneer buyer. If that guy was interested in your logs he wouldn't make blanket assumptions. The walnut market is on the way down right now. The veneer buyers will get picky when the market gets soft.