Q. I have an almost-dead black-cherry tree in my yard. Over the last few weeks, I noticed large rectangular holes in it. What did this to my tree?
Chris from Canfield
A. Both insects and birds can make holes in trees, however, large holes are made by woodpeckers. The size and shape of the holes on your tree indicate you have a Pileated Woodpecker.
Fans of the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker are familiar with this large bird. Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest common woodpeckers in North America. About the size of a crow, they are black with white neck stripes and white wing linings and a prominent crested red head.
They usually are residents of mature forests and borders, but some can be found near the outskirts of cities. They make large, rectangular-shaped holes to find carpenter ants and other insects in the tree. Their excavations increase the rate of decay for dead trees, which help to recycle forest nutrients more rapidly. Many of these holes are used by as many as two dozen forest species such as birds and small mammals that use them for nesting and roosting. These and other services have earned Pileateds the status of a “keystone” species.
Recent findings also have indicated that Pileated and other woodpecker species could contribute to a solution to the Asian invasive emerald ash borers, which have caused the death of 30 million ash trees in the U.S. since 2002. They are a handy food source for woodpeckers and may slow the spread of this noxious pest, even ultimately controlling it, suggest researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
One woodland area being monitored for the study lies behind Dempsey Middle School in Delaware, Ohio. The researchers enlisted the help of schoolchildren to do a precise accounting of bug and woodpecker activity in the area, said Christopher Whelan, an avian ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and a co-author of the study. Their results proved that woodpeckers were eating 85 percent of the emerald ash borers in an infested tree. The research suggests that the woodpeckers likely are slowing their spread. For more information, see: http://go.osu.edu/woodpecker.
This week’s answer provided by Sheila Cubick, OSU Extension certified volunteer naturalist. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays to submit your questions.