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Acorn Woodpecker

Melanerpes formicivorus

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This attractive medium-sized woodpecker can be identified by its glossy black plumage, a cream-colored face and a bright red “skullcap”. When in flight, white patches are visible on the wings and tail. The bird’s bill is straight and thick and their eyes are bright yellow. They are sometimes mistaken for western pileated woodpeckers, which are larger birds with a distinct crest on the top of their heads

This woodpecker has a complex social structure when compared to many birds. They will live in extended groups (sometimes called “coalitions”) and work cooperatively to gather food, raise young and protect territory. Like American crows, some group members will forage while others keep watch, producing a piercing “waka-waka” call if danger is spotted. (It is believed that the “call” of the animated character Woody Woodpecker is actually based on this bird.) Working in this manner, a single coalition may hoard thousands of acorns in specially made holes they peck in trees.

Male and female woodpeckers will also help rear young in what is known as “cooperative breeding.” This is a rare trait among birds, thought to occur in only 9% of all species. Among acorn woodpeckers, this means that several adult birds will care for one nest which greatly increases the chance of eggs hatching and young reaching maturity.

Range and Habitat

Acorn woodpeckers are found mostly in oak woodlands or mixed oak-conifer forests. They are common all along the west coast and in the southwestern United States. Because this species is also tolerant of people, they are a common urban species. They are often destructive when pecking on wooden structures and are sometimes considered a nuisance bird.

Conservation Status

Common.