Emerald Ash Borer and Birds

Purple “kites” hanging from trees

By now you have likely learned the origin of the curious purple ornaments to be found hanging from Ash trees across New Hampshire. Deployed throughout the state to provide early warning of the Emerald Ash Borer, they are coated with glue and emit attractants to lure and trap any of the subject beetles that might be nearby. The invasive pest grabbed headlines in March when an infested Ash tree was spotted by an eagle eyed observer in Concord, the first recorded occurrence of the species in the state. Its arrival has been highly anticipated in recognition of the damage that it may visit upon our forests. In the three months since its discovery, it has been found at several more sites in Concord and surrounding towns, and until further notice, all untreated Ash products in Hillsborough County have been placed under quarantine.

Steve Roberge, an expert forester with the UNH Cooperative Extension Service gave a talk at the Harris Center recently about the pest and what can be done. He detailed three options; a) treatment of individual trees, which is expensive and makes sense only for specimen and important shade trees; b) removal of the infested tree; c) no action. Taken together, these various options will slow the spread of the pest but not stop it, and it is expected to eventually expand its range throughout the entire state and region.

Emerald Ash Borer and Birds

Though Ash is not the most important tree for birds and other wildlife species, it makes up about 5% of the forest, and up to 10% locally in the Monadnock Region, so a large-scale loss of Ash will have a significant effect on the species composition of our forests. The winged seeds are eaten by a number of birds, including waterfowl, American Turkey, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal, Purple Finch, and Evening Grosbeak. They are also consumed by Porcupine, Beaver, White-footed Mouse, White-tailed Deer, Moose, and Black Bear, and the seeds are likely more important during years when food production by other tree species is low.  The potential demise of Ash is not an isolated event. Chestnut trees largely disappeared from North American forests by the 1950’s because of an introduced Asian fungus, most Elms have succumbed to Dutch Elm disease, Maples and Birches are threatened by the exotic Asian Longhorned Beetle, Hemlocks are threatened by the introduced Woolly Adelgid, and Beech trees are falling victim to an insect/fungus combination. Though ravaged by Gypsy Moth in the past, the region’s Red and White Oaks seem to be safe for the moment – a welcome blessing as they are one of the most important food providers in a New England forest.

At least the Emerald Ash Borer has not been found in my home country of Ireland where hurling is the national sport. You can’t play hurling without a hurley, and you can’t make a hurley without an ash tree. If you are concerned about Emerald Ash Borer on your property, get to know the signs. Look for dieback in the crown, yellowing of areas of bark, abundant woodpecker activity, or new shoots sprouting from the base of the tree. If you find a suspect tree, take a picture and call 1-800-444-8978. More information can be found on www.nhbugs.com

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