Acorn Woodpecker — Communist
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I have a lot of subjects that are personal favorites. These are creatures that I’m attracted to because of their unique or especially beautiful appearance or because of their unusual behaviors. Acorn Woodpeckers rank right at the top of the list. They are very pretty birds for certain, but it is their lifestyle that is their most interesting feature. These birds are the communists of the avian world.
In Arizona Acorn Woodpeckers live at higher elevations where there are mature deciduous forests with oaks. In the area around Tucson they inhabit mountains’ upper slopes and summits. I’ve seen them at the summit of Kitt Peak southwest of Tucson at about 7000 feet of elevation. I encountered the bird that I depict here close to the top of Mt. Lemmon at about 9200 feet. As their name implies, Acorn Woodpeckers subsist primarily on acorns.
They are large and very beautiful birds. Their pale eyes are a unique feature. Both males and females display red caps on their heads, but the male’s cap is larger than the female’s. The bird in these images is a male. Acorn Woodpeckers’ distinctive navy blue-black and white faces are somewhat clown-like, giving them a comical appearance. That appearance is enhanced by the woodpeckers’ call, a very loud “waka-waka-waka.”
Acorn Woodpeckers live in mixed bands of males and females, sometimes numbering a dozen or more individuals. They practice a communal lifestyle. The woodpeckers select a tree as repository for the acorns that they gather. They drill holes, sometimes hundreds of them, in the tree’s bark into which they deposit the acorns for future consumption. The members of the group share in the food. Usually, one or two of them will hang back and guard the storage site as others forage.
Their communal lifestyle includes sex and reproduction. Male and female members within a group of these birds share partners. This practice, unusual among birds, is referred to as “polygynandry.” I prefer to think of it as “free love.” The communal lifestyle extends to egg-laying, with more than one female laying her eggs in a single nest. Sometimes, there is competition, with birds throwing out other birds’ eggs. The females take turns sitting on the eggs and they raise their offspring cooperatively.
So, think of these birds as living proof that communism works. Among woodpeckers, at any rate.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 1000, f5.6. The first two images shot at 1/1250, the third at 1/800.