Emerald ash borer entices rare woodpecker to Chicago. The pileated woodpecker, a large black woodpecker with a flaming-red crest and bold white stripes down its neck, has been spotted in the western Chicago suburbs of DuPage County. It appears to have been unwittingly lured by an invasive pest, the emerald ash borer.
Members of the DuPage Birding Club are excited to report regular sightings of the woodpecker in woodland areas it didn’t previously inhabit, saying it’s “a big deal”. One reason for these woodpeckers being there is an increase in their preferred habitat, dead and dying trees, due to the emerald ash borer invasion over the past decade.
This green jewel beetle native to eastern Asia feeds on ash species, and has devastated the ash trees around Chicago. The emerald ash borer larvae feed on the inner bark, then emerge in a prime location for a hungry woodpecker to devour. The action of the larvae prevents water and nutrients moving from the tree roots to leaves, weakening and eventually killing the tree. So there’s a double benefit for the woodpecker; the larvae are a good food source, while the weakened tree offers an ideal place to excavate and nest.
A lot of money and effort has been spent treating affected trees around Chicago and cutting down those that can’t be saved, but in forest preserves where the damaged trees are typically left standing the woodpeckers find them enticing destinations. Interestingly, forest preserves in this area have increased since the 1950s. Prior to this, the local lack of trees, from clearing in the 1800s to make way for cities and agriculture, meant a dearth of pileated woodpeckers and other birds. But the forests are returning to abandoned small farms, providing the tall, dead trees these woodpeckers require.
Source: The Chicago Tribune, 30 May 2016.