Birders: Report Forest Pests During the Great Backyard Bird Count

Asian longhorned beetle exit holes are perfectly round with a neat edge.  Photo: Jennifer Forman Orth, MDAR

Asian longhorned beetle exit holes are perfectly round with a neat edge. Photo: Jennifer Forman Orth, MDAR

Leigh Greenwood is manager of the Don’t Move Firewood campaign.

Want to expand your citizen-science impact during the Great Backyard Bird Count?

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a joint project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. It is one of the largest citizen science projects in the world and will be held this year from February 14 – 17. Birders simply watch birds at any location for at least 15 minutes, tally the birds they see and report their tallies online.

The GBBC has helped researchers track bird population trends, migration routes, the impacts of climate change and the spread of non-native bird species.

Conservancy invasives scientists are now asking for assistance in looking for signs of damage from invasive tree pests like emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle and others.

Because invasive forest insects are often preyed upon by native woodpeckers, the damage that birdwatchers can learn about and look for comes in two types; heavy damage from woodpeckers foraging on high densities of invasive insects in trees, and damage from the life cycle of the invasive insects themselves.

Many state agricultural and forestry agencies around the country are joining in the effort to encourage birdwatchers to learn the difference between typical signs of woodpecker and sapsucker foraging, and the subtly different signs of damage connected to forest insects.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is an ideal opportunity for bird watchers to check the trees for signs of invasive pests like Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer,” said Jennifer Forman Orth, State Plant Pest Survey Coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

She continues:  “The damage from these insects can easily be seen in winter, when there are no leaves on the trees, and birdwatchers are typically armed with a pair of binoculars that will help them check high-up branches for the perfectly round holes left by Asian longhorned beetles in maples and other hardwoods, or the increased woodpecker activity and removal of bark (“blonding”) caused by excessive woodpecker activity associated with emerald ash borer infestations in ash trees.”

Emerald ash borer (EAB) exit hole on left, and woodpecker foraging hole on right. The woodpecker is likely seeking adjacent EAB larvae. Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University

Emerald ash borer (EAB) exit hole on left, and woodpecker foraging hole on right. The woodpecker is likely seeking adjacent EAB larvae. Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University

Birdwatchers can download the new Birdwatcher’s Short Field Guide to Holes in Trees, a handout produced by the Conservancy.

This short photo guide explains the differences between holes made by typical woodpecker and sapsucker foraging, holes made by woodpeckers seeking invasive insect larvae, and holes caused by the invasive insects themselves.

Participants in the Great Backyard Bird Count should report any suspicious damage or signs of forest pests as soon as they have concluded entering their bird count data at birdcount.org.

Birders are encouraged to take digital photos of any potentially forest insect related damage observed, identify the species of tree with the damage if possible, and then report findings using websites (see below for a listing), state hotlines, or phone apps.

“Trees and forests are an essential part of our lives, and they provide clean air and water, jobs and products, and vital wildlife habitat.  From tree-lined neighborhood streets to national parks, we count on trees to provide benefits today and for generations to come,” says Bill Toomey, Director of Forest Health Protection for The Nature Conservancy. “That’s why it’s critical for everyone to be aware of the trees around them and take simple actions to help protect them- such as looking for and reporting signs of insects or diseases.”

Stripping of ash bark by woodpeckers while seeking emerald ash borer larvae; this foraging damage is called “blonding." Photo: Jennifer Forman Orth,MDAR

Stripping of ash bark by woodpeckers while seeking emerald ash borer larvae; this foraging damage is called “blonding.” Photo: Jennifer Forman Orth,MDAR

For more information on regionally and nationally important invasive forest pests, and how to report potential signs of infestation, please refer to the websites below.

Download your handout today, and learn more about Holes in Trees!

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program  and Don’t Move Firewood.

Posted In: Citizen Science

Leigh Greenwood is the manager of Don’t Move Firewood, an outreach campaign managed by The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health Protection Program. Leigh’s interest in the complex relationships between invasive species and native birds stems from even before her Master’s Degree in Wildlife Biology, where she studied the interplay between invasive plants, flies used for biological control, and the overwinter foraging of Black-capped and Mountain chickadees. She has worked for the Conservancy since 2007 and her current favorite bird is the Clark’s Nutcracker.



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