The Acorn Woodpecker is a favorite of mine and is very common to our area in the central coast of California. As a child, my sister and I would wake up to the sound of the Acorn Woodpecker pounding acorns into the window framing of our grandparent’s cabin. Luckily, the cabin still stands, but the Woodpeckers now are using several big oak trees to store their acorns!
The comical looking Acorn Woodpecker is a glossy black above with a black, yellow and white face. It has a black chest streaked with white, white under parts, and white patches on its wings and rump. It also has a distinctive white eye. You might find several red or yellow feathers on the throat. The male has a white forehead and a red crown; the female has a black bar in front of the red crown. The juvenile is similar to the female but has darker eyes and are more brown in color.
Range & Habitat
The Acorn Woodpecker is found where oak trees are present; oak woodlands, savannahs, chaparral, riparian woodlands, and mountain forests. It is a year around resident and common in the west and southwest from Oregon to California and scattered locations in Colorado and Utah. It is also found in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Acorn Woodpeckers are gregarious, social and noisy. They live in groups of up to 15 birds and stay close to their “granaries” where they drill holes with their bills so they can store enough acorns to last through the winter. These granaries may be trees however, any wood will do. They will also use posts, telephone poles and even house siding and the eaves of a house if it is in their territory. The drilled holes that hold the acorns are refilled each year and can hold up to 50,000 acorns! A cache this large requires a large family group to defend their granary tree. If they run out of acorns they might move south. In the summer, they catch flying insects and forage for ants, eat sap, nectar, lizards and bird eggs. Their call is a loud “rach-et, rach-et, rach-et.” They also make chattering and laughing calls. Woodpecker groups are made up of siblings, their cousins and their parents. They have an undulating flight, where you will be able to see the white patches on their wings.
Breeding & Nesting
Courtship involves bowing, wing spreading and aerial displays. A group usually has 1-7 breeding males and 1-3 breeding females so not every bird in the group will mate each year. The female Acorn Woodpecker may mate with up to 4 males. All members of the group are close relatives except the co-breeder males. They are not related to the nest sharing females. The nest is excavated in a tree. All of the eggs of the group are laid in a single nest (usually 4-6 eggs). It is common for nesting females to try and destroy another’s eggs during the egg laying. They will even remove the eggs from the nest. Once all of the eggs have been laid, they leave the eggs alone. The eggs are incubated by all members of the community. When the eggs hatch, the nestlings are also fed by all of the community. Young woodpeckers stay with their community for several years and help to feed the new young.