Saturday, March 15, 2008

Acorn Woodpeckers

It may be arguable that they are the most numerous species here at Dryad Ranch - some of the flocking birds may have them beat in sheer numbers - but the predominantly noticeable birds are the Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). They are here in noisy abundance. These woodpeckers store acorns in dead oak and pine trees, as well as the occasional telephone pole; these storage "bins" are called granaries; evidently they have been known to store up to 50,000 acorns at one site. As the acorns ripen in the fall, the birds peck the acorns into the trees, and during the winter then spend a great deal of time moving the acorns from one hole to another.

Acorn woodpeckers are sort of the hippies of the woodpecker world - they breed in cooperative colonies, with several males and two or three females sharing a nest. The groups are made up of related birds, either siblings, parents or offspring from previous years that have not left the territory.

Other species are known to take over acorn woodpeckers' nesting cavities, including the Oak Titmouse. Acorn woodpeckers are considered by some to be a keystone species in our oak savannah habitat, since a collapse in their population would negatively affect so many other species, including those who take over woodpecker nests and the oak trees themselves since the woodpeckers are considered seed dispersers.
Photo in the public domain from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

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