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Nuts - It Takes a Flock

February 19, 2013

The Acorn Woodpecker!A new bird (to me) has taken over as Number One on my list of Top Birds. He has been described as, “the epitome of avian entertainment,”1 The Acorn Woodpecker!

This bird is charming, hardworking and sociable. They are neither large (slightly smaller than a robin) nor rare. However, if they are around, they pretty much take over the neighborhood, living in large groups, breeding communally hoarding acorns, and keeping a large yellow eye out for potential problems or thieves.

Unknown to me, a woman who has had to content herself with downey and hairy woodpeckers with an occasional pileated for most of her life, 10 days ago, I was thrust 3,000 feet up on the side of Mt Palomar and into a flock of Acorn Woodpeckers.

Live Oak woodlands provide the main staple of the Acorn Woodpecker’s diet - acorns.

Live Oak woodlands provide the main staple of the Acorn Woodpecker’s diet - acorns.

Day after day with only a feral feline companion waiting with me. I watched a group of 10-12 of these marvelous avians at their utility pole granary create holes, stuff, re-arrange, guard and eat their acorns.

This woodpecker meets many of the top criteria that earn him my devotion. They are busy - busy - busy!

They are easy to see - black and white, with a remarkable wing pattern showing when they fly.

There are lots of them, they travel in groups and congregate at a single place - their granary.

All the gals in the flock lay their eggs in the same nest and occasionally practice infanticide on one another’s eggs, until everyone is laying at the same time.

Young birds stick around and help their parents with nest duties.

They share mates, practice group sex and store acorns on a monumental scale

In fact, it’s pretty much all about the nuts.

As the acorns dry out they shrink and must be moved to a smaller hole.

They hoard nuts (mostly acorns) on a grand scale in their granaries. The storage unit is often a dead tree, although they are willing to live around people and are perfectly happy to forgo a magnificent live oak and pound their way into window casements, shingles, wood-siding, fences and decks to store their acorns.
The gang that I watched for days was working out of an old utility pole. It’s a tough job finding or creating just the right hole for any given nut, then the nut must be turned just the right way to remain wedged until needed.

The granary, as generations drill away and tend to it, will hold thousands of nuts. The largest recorded contained around 50,000 acorns. In Arizona, woodpeckers were pushing their nuts into a wooden water tower and they were dropping through into the water. This did not stop them. Workers recovered, almost 500 pounds of acorns from the interior of the tank.

They are very busy, although they often stop to check out their watchers with their big yellow eyes open very wide. They look very funny when they do this... like little clowns.

One of their calls sounds like Woody Woodpecker.

1 Wildlife Photographer, Marie Reed


Although Nuttall's Woodpeckers are nearly confined to oak woodlands, they do not eat acorns.”

- Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Here a Nuttall’s is eating acorns from the granary annex outside our camper window???

What an interesting bird! Looks like that feral cat thinks so, too. It's like I can read his mind: "Lunch!"


If they do not eat the acorns, what happens to the acorns?


Fascinating! Somehow they remind me of Scarlett O'Hara's line, "God as my witness, I shall never be hungry again!" - how did they evolve into this amazing community factory hoarding/packaging acorns for hard times?


Yeah, they are lovely birds until they destroy the wood siding of you mountain home! A neighboring cabin owner had to replace his siding. When the old siding was removed, there was an avalanche of acorns. The exterior walls of this cabin held more than that water tower you talk about. The guy next door thought he could prevent damage to his siding by shooting the birds and then hanging them from his rafters around the house. The little birds retaliated. He too had to replace all his siding (and there were no nuts in his walls.)


Kate - I'm glad you mentioned how much homeowners do not love these birds. I, of course, was in complete denial.

Have to add... The wood siding of our cabin was untouched by these birds... we fed them sun flower seeds which they loved! :) If an acorn gets water, a might oak tree will grow. Think about that coming out of your siding!


Love the story and that you took the time to pursue this fascinating creature. Truly remarkable! Move over Pocono woodpeckers! Great story!!!!! Love it!


Ryan, ahhhh, but you have Mr. and Mrs. Pileated hanging around your yard. The drawing here is from the end of your lake where I watched them one morning.

Reminds me of the black pigs from which the Spanish make Bellota ham, the ultimate ham, I must say. These pigs run free under the acorn trees (you can tell I am not a naturalist) and eat acorns, which give the ham the very nutty flavor that makes it famous. Are there Woodpeckers in Western Spain, I wonder...?


Love this story, and the photos. And the story of the wooden water tower made me smile. I'm assuming the "granary" was above the water line ??!!??


How incredibly interesting! They would entertain me for months LOL

Mary, Dan and Bridget!

Hi Horse Trailer Friends,,I could not stop watching them. I wished I had had one of those $27,000 camera lenses. Even when it snowed, I tried to get pictures.

Wow! What a fantastic find! The tank with the 500 lbs of nuts.... well, that's just nuts! Wish I was there with y'all! Keep up the great work!


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