Woodpecker Wednesday!: Acorn Woodpecker

Welcome to Woodpecker Wednesday, friends! Tomorrow is the first day of Autumn, so it’s time to switch our weekly bird feature. A few weeks ago I wasn’t really sure which family or birds I wanted to feature for Autumn until I went to Barnes and Noble. That’s where I found and purchased Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America. From that moment I knew I had to do a weekly Woodpecker feature.Woodpeckers are one of my favorite families.

There are 22 North American Woodpeckers in what is called the Picidae family.To kick of the fall season I chose to start with the Acorn Woodpecker.

I have not seen an Acorn Woodpecker in the wild, but Dave did when he recently went to California. However, I do remember the first time I ever saw an Acorn Woodpecker, and it was quite a surprise.

I happened to be watching Texas Hummingbird cam from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There was a flurry of hummingbirds for a few minutes and then the feeder was empty. All of a sudden something large slammed into the feeder. I remember thinking “What in the world is that??” It certainly was not a hummingbird. I couldn’t help but laugh because I thought it was so absurd. Turns out that sometimes Woodpeckers will drink from hummingbird feeders using their long tongues. This one happened to be an Acorn Woodpecker.

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Surprise! (Screen shot taken by BirdNation from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Hummingbird Cam)

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

Description:

Acorn Woodpeckers have a distinctive face that is usually described as “clown-like”. They sport a red cap and have yellow eyes. Their upperparts are solid black and their white chests are streaked with black. Their upper-tail coverts, rumps, and wing undersides are white. Their tails are wedge-shaped and their bills are straight.

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Acorn Woodpecker in California (Image by Steve Ryan via wikimedia commons)

Range:

Western Oregon and California, parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and throughout Mexico/Central America

Habitat:

Oak woods, mixed forests, foothills, oak-pine canyons and mountains. They are usually always found in habitats that feature oaks. They are tolerant of humans, so they will live in areas where acorns and places to store them are plentiful.

Diet:

They are omnivores, and mainly eat acorns and insects. They also eat fruit, seeds, and other nuts. Unlike many other Woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers live in large groups. Together these groups harvest acorns in the fall to build caches for the winter months. The oaks they used are considers “Granary trees”. Members of the flock work together and drill holes to store the acorns. They will take turns guarding the tree while others forage. Acorn Woodpeckers will glean insects off leaves. They are unique because they are one of the  only Woodpeckers that almost never excavate in wood for insects.

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Working on the granary tree (Image via the US Dept of Interior’s Twitter page)

Breeding/Nesting:

Acorn Woodpeckers are one of two North American Woodpeckers to practice cooperative breeding. This means that individual birds that are not the chick’s parents will help take care of the young. Some Acorns remain monogamous, while others practice polygynandry, where multiple females breed with multiple males in the same nest. They don’t do many courtship displays, but individuals tend to stay in the same territory throughout their lives. Non-breeding helpers may be up to 5 years old and are related to the parents. Typical family groups range from 4 individuals to 15 (which is the maximum).

Acorns have 1-2 broods per year that consist of 3-6 eggs per clutch. The eggs are incubated for 11-14 days by both parents and eventually the helpers. After being cared for by the parents and helpers, the young fledge between 30-32 days. Like other woodpeckers they nest in tree cavities, usually in oak trees.

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Acorn Woodpeckers (Image via pintrest)

Sounds:

Sounds like raucous laughing: wheka wheka! or RACK-up, RACK-up. A vibrant ddddrri-drr!

Fun Facts:

  • A “granary tree” can hold upwards of 50,000 acorns. Sometimes Acorn Woodpeckers also use man-made wooden structures such as utility poles and fenceposts.
  • Although rarely seen, sometimes family groups will engage in vicious fights that may last for days. Apparently these “battles” occur when a breeding member of the family dies and a “spot” opens up for breeding. These fights happen between the family members and “rival” families who are trying to intrude.

Audubon recently posted an interesting video of one of the “brawls” that was caught on camera at Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary in California. If you want to read the article and see the video check out the link below.

This Video Shows Just How Nasty an Acorn Woodpecker Brawl Can Be by Erica Cirino

 

 

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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