Saturday, August 4, 2012

Acorn Woodpecker

Imagine your life if you were required to beat your head against a tree!?!

The Acorn Woodpecker is a unique bird, partly because of its complicated social demands. Young woodpeckers stay in the family group for years, to help raise future generations.  Acorn Woodpecker ‘families’ may contain up to seven breeding males and three breeding females.  The females communally nest and produce young from several males. Individual females may destroy eggs already laid in the communal nest, until all the females are ready to lay eggs.

They cache acorns as their primary food; hence their name, but they also eat insects.  Here lies the amazing part.  Imagine repeatedly banging your head against a tree to make holes!  By chiseling hundreds or even thousands of holes in trees, they make granaries.  These trees become ‘granary’ trees.  They guard these granary trees against thieving jays, and other food bandits.  They even timed their breeding cycle to autumn, to correspond with the oak tree’s acorns.

In reference sources they are sometimes referred to as ‘clown-faced’.  Using a little imagination, you can see it.  It is a fun comparison and I doubt it bothers the woodpeckers at all.   Walter Lantz, the animator, is said to have used the Acorn Woodpecker’s unusual laughing call to give voice to his Woody Woodpecker cartoon character. He used the Pileated Woodpecker physical appearance, to model his cartoon-bird’s looks.

I found this Acorn Woodpecker in Madera Canyon on the western face of the Santa Rita Mountains. That’s in southern Arizona.  I didn’t see him hiding or retrieving any acorns.  It was January and he was likely living off what he had already stored last fall.  I did see him drumming on a tree though. He wasn’t making much noise in the cold mountain air, nor was he making a hole into the healthy tree, so what was his point?   It could have been just woodpecker boredom; I don’t know…it’s just an observation.  Maybe there is some personal satisfaction in pounding your head into a tree?