Emerald Ash Borer Feeds Woodpecker Boom Around Detroit

The emerald ash borer (EAB) is feeding a woodpecker population boom in the Detroit, Michigan area. That’s the surprising news Thursday from the USDA Forest Service. And they usually have zero good words to say about the forest-destroying pest.

The emerald ash borer is an invasive species of beetle that probably came from Asia on cargo ships. It was first discovered in the Detroit, Michigan area in the summer of 2002.

According to the Emerald Ash Borer website, in the past 11 years it has invaded a large area of the United States and Canada. Tens of millions of trees are already dead in Michigan alone.

It has also cost American cities and industries tens of millions of dollars.

But the new study provides a sliver of hope. Using data collected by volunteer birdwatchers for Project FeederWatch, US Forest Service entomologist and Cornell University ornithologist Walter Koenig have found that four species of birds are booming in the wake of the EAB invasion.

One nuthatch species and three woodpecker species have figured out that the ash borer larva are a tasty source of protein. The four species feasting on EAB are white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, and red-bellied woodpecker.

That’s a downy on the left and a red-bellied on the right in the top photo. Don’t bother to squint. There’s no red belly.

While the woodpeckers aren’t going to be able to fight the menace of the emerald ash borer on their own, it’s nice to know the trees have someone on their side.

white-breasted nuthatch by Gary Irwin via Wikimedia
emerald ash borer photo credit: Houping Liu, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org via USDA Forest Service

[Male Downy Woodpecker photo by Noel Zia Lee via Flickr, Creative Commons, Male Red-bellied Woodpecker photo by Roy W. Knight via Wikimedia]

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