Acorn Woodpeckers make punch-board patterns on trees

by Dave Hanks

Here is a food storage king. A most interesting set of holes are drill into a tree’s bark. The pattern looks very much like a “punch board” and each hole will contain an acorn. Some trees have been found to have up to 50,000 holes. These trees are referred to as granary trees. The bird’s life revolves around these nuts, and they are very important in the propagation of oak forests. This species can always be found in scrub oak and pine woodlands of the southwest. Pines produce a lot of sap, and this medium-sized woodpecker loves the sticky exudation. Wooden posts have also served as recipients of their hole drilling.

This is an interesting “fellow” with his prominent eye - with its very obvious pupil, his red cap, white forehead and chin, and streaked breast. (The female lacks the red cap) A common nickname for the bird is “clown-faced”.

Acorn Woodpeckers are very social and live in large family groups. The whole family will defend their territory. One to seven males will compete for the attention of 1 to 3 females. These females will then share the same tree cavity when nesting. Each female, before laying her eggs, will destroy many of the previously lay eggs – thus it is estimated that a third of all eggs never survive. The young will stay in the group for several years and help in the raising of the babies.

We have had many experiences with this bird in south-eastern Arizona. When setting up in a campground, they will be waiting with great anticipation in a tree close by. The feed we put out will have hardly left our hands before they swoop down to partake of it. While acorns are their staple, they love peanut butter and suet and will come in often to feed on it. They are very belligerent in the defense of this new food source.

(On a pine limb and his eye agleam)