Study: Ash borer affects Detroit-area woodpeckers

DETROIT (AP) – The presence of the tree-killing emerald ash borer in the Detroit area has affected the area’s woodpecker population, according to a study.

Researchers at Cornell University and the U.S. Forest Service examined woodpecker populations in the Detroit area and compared the numbers to some other Midwest cities. They found the Detroit area has a higher population of red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.

“One of the easiest ways to find an infested tree when you’re out in the field is to find a tree that’s been heavily attacked by woodpeckers,” Andrew Liebhold, an insect scientist for the U.S. Forest Service and co-author of the study, told the Detroit Free Press for a story today.

“They destroy the bark of the tree, preying on the emerald ash borers. It almost looks like the tree exploded,” he said.

The researchers also found that downy and hairy woodpeckers had population declines after the ash borer’s arrival, but those numbers have begun recovering in the last few years. Cornell bird scientist and study co-author Walt Koenig said they may have been crowded out or slower about making the ash borer part of their diet.

“Some species really aren’t very good at taking up novel food items,” he said.

The emerald ash borer is a beetle native to Asia detected in southeast Michigan in 2002. It’s responsible for the death or damage of millions of ash trees in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and surrounding states.

Mark Wloch of Southgate, a bird-watcher, welcomes the addition of more red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches, but not what’s bringing them.

“It’s always good to have more birds like that,” he said. “But it’s not good to have ash borers.”