While spending some time earlier this week at Sharon Woods Metro Park, one of the Columbus and Franklin County's Metro Parks, I had the opportunity to capture some shots of a downy woodpecker flittering about in an small alder tree. I was playing around with a new camera and was 'zoomed' in rather far when as I took the pictures. It wasn't until I returned to the office that I realized the downy woodpecker was doing much more than 'flittering about". It was actually feasting on woolly alder aphids!
Woolly alder aphids rarely cause severe damage to trees as long as there are natural predators to keep their populations in check. These natural predators include lacewings, lady beetles, hover flies, parasitic wasps, and birds! Most of us realize that a woodpecker's diet consists largely of bugs, but so does the diet of many other birds this time of year. Insects are abundant during the summer months and many birds take advantage of these tiny protein-rich packages, even if their diet normally consists of seed and berries. A source of protein and fat is also important to young, growing nestlings.
As we all know, woodpeckers are known for their impressive abilities to peck and drill into one of nature's hardest materials - wood! However there was no pecking needed this time - the table (or rather the tree) was set (with aphids) and the woodpecker was feasting!