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One of the really fascinating things about living in southern Arizona is the dramatic changes in habitat that one experiences as one drives around. Here, habitat is affected greatly by elevation and the presence or absence of water. Life on the slopes of mountains or at their summits can be totally different from what one finds down on the desert floor.
Yesterday I rode up to the summit of Kitt Peak, as a guest of Sally Hansen and her husband, Robert Bender. If you’ve never been to Kitt Peak it’s a must-see. It’s about 40 miles southwest of Tucson and it is the northernmost peak of the Baboquivari chain of mountains. There is a nice paved road all the way to the summit at about 6800 feet. The mountaintop is home to one of the world’s most important astronomical observatories. It also offers nearly 360 degrees of extraordinary views and wildlife that is totally different from what one sees down on the desert at the mountain’s base.
One of the species we found up there was the Acorn Woodpecker. This is an extraordinarily beautiful bird and it has a fascinating lifestyle.
These gorgeous birds are immediately identifiable by their pale eyes, their black and white faces, and the black ring of plumage at the base of their beaks. Both males and females of this species have red crests, but the male’s extends all the way to his forehead (the bird shown is a male) whereas the female’s is more of a cap on the back of her head.
These birds are inhabitants of oak and pinyon forests. In Arizona that means that they live at an altitude of between about 4000 and 7000 feet.
As their name suggests, acorns are a principal source of food for these woodpeckers, although they will also take insects when they are available.
Acorn Woodpeckers live a communal lifestyle. Typically, they live in small flocks or bands of about a dozen birds. They drill holes in the bark of trees and they secrete acorns there as a rainy day food supply. It’s not unusual for a band of these birds to drill hundreds or even thousands of such holes in a tree and to deposit acorns in all of them. The food storage area is a social gathering point for the woodpeckers. They will collectively defend their food caches against interlopers such as jays or ravens.
They also engage in communal parenthood. It’s not unusual for a mixed group of males and females to build a cluster of nests. These birds are swingers! The males and females may mate indiscriminately (this behavior is called “polygynandry”) and all of the adults will share in raising all of the offspring.
Photos made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 500. The first photo was made at M setting, f6.3 @ 1/500. The remaining photos were made at aperture preferred setting, f6.3 @ 1/250.