Acorn Woodpeckers: The Clowns of the Avian World
Why would I call these beautiful woodpeckers the “clowns of the avian world?” Besides the facial features of the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) appearing somewhat clown-like, they are a joy to watch and some of their antics are sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
Both the male and female of the species have a bright red crown. The adult female (below) has a wide black band separating her red crown from the white forehead whereas the adult male has a solid red crown. Click on photos for full sized images.
You can get a brief look into their comical behavior from this video showing two females at my woodpecker feeder. You can hear their calls throughout the video but at the 53 second mark, the second female comes in and gives the typical call with the head bob.
Shortly after the first bird leaves the feeder, the remaining woodpecker peaks around the edge of the feeder. Many woodpeckers show this endearing behavior of peaking around from the back side of tree branches and trunks.
This is the male Acorn Woodpecker hanging from my suet feeder. Note the pale yellow eyes also seen in the adult female.
These birds inhabit foothill and mountain woodlands and are closely associated with oaks and usually found in pine-oak woodlands. This is their range map courtesy of Nature Serve.
Most Acorn Woodpeckers are cooperative breeders and live in family groups of up to a dozen or more individuals. Within a group, 1–7 male co-breeders compete for matings with 1–3 joint-nesting females who lay their eggs in the same nest cavity. Groups may also contain up to 10 male and female non-breeding helpers, usually offspring of the group produced in prior years1.
The result of this cooperative breeding strategy is that fledging success increases with group size and survivorship is also significantly higher for all birds living in these larger groups1.
This is a photo of a juvenile at my water feature. Both male and female juveniles have full red crowns and the darker blue iris.
Acorn Woodpeckers are the only species to store individual nuts in holes drilled in granaries. An individual granary tree may contain only a few or as many as 50,000 holes, each of which is typically filled with an acorn in the fall. This photo of a granary tree is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Insects are the preferred food of this woodpecker, supplemented by acorns when insects are not available. They can often be seen hawking insects from the tops of trees and gleaning them from the bark.
They can also be seen at woodpecker feeders like the one this male is visiting in my back yard.
Acorn Woodpeckers are obviously very handsome birds and a load of fun to watch. I leave you with this image of a female at the nut feeder with her tongue sticking out. Enjoy!
References: 1Birds of North America Online