Acorn Woodpecker

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Today I’m featuring one of the more engaging species of birds that I photographed on Mt. Lemmon’s upper slopes.  This is the Acorn Woodpecker.

This species is native to northern Mexico’s mountains, southern Arizona and New Mexico, and to the mountainous parts of western California and Oregon.  It favors mature forests and, as its name implies, it is associated with oaks.  I’ve found these birds in Arizona at elevations as low as about 5000 feet (about 1.5km).

Acorn Woodpeckers are strikingly attractive.  The males, shown here, have red caps covering the tops of their heads.  The females also have read caps but they are smaller and they sport a dark blue band between the front of the cap and the creamy white plumage on their foreheads.

Acorn Woodpeckers have complex and fascinating social lives.  They live in small flocks in well-defined territories.  These woodpeckers subsist primarily on insects and other invertebrates but they also harvest acorns and cache them in holes that they drill in the trunk of a tree.  The cache is known as a “granary.”.  Sometimes, they will cache thousands of acorns on the same tree.  The flock will fiercely defend its granary against interlopers.    Members of the flock share in the bounty, taking acorns from the cache when they are hungry.

These birds’ communal lifestyle includes breeding.  Females and males in a flock may mate indiscriminately.  A nesting female lays her eggs in a cavity that the flock has excavated in a tree trunk or limb.  Sometimes more than one female will lay her eggs in a cavity.  The female laying her eggs most recently often will destroy eggs that were laid previously.  The members of a flock will work communally to feed the hatchlings

If all of this isn’t unusual enough, add these birds’ vocalizations to their weirdness.  They utter all sorts of cries and calls, including one that sounds like a high-pitched “wocka-wocka-wocka.” A flock of these birds can be extremely noisy when its members communicate with each other.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens, stabilized by monopod, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f4 @ 1/800.


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  1. Acorn Woodpecker — Sonoran Images – PerchSpective - June 10, 2019

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