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Acorn Woodpecker

Melanerpes formicivorus ORDER: PICIFORMES FAMILY: PICIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Reminiscent of a troupe of wide-eyed clowns, Acorn Woodpeckers live in large groups in western oak woodlands. Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees. A group member is always on alert to guard the hoard from thieves, while others race through the trees giving parrotlike waka-waka calls. Their breeding behavior is equally complicated, with multiple males and females combining efforts to raise young in a single nest.

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Calls

Their most common call is a loud, squeaky waka-waka-waka, used for greeting family members, disputing territory boundaries, and squabbling in groups. They also give noisy trills, harsh repeated notes, chatters, and other calls.

Other Sounds

Acorn Woodpeckers drum on special drumming posts, typically dead limbs chosen for their resonance. Both males and females drum, giving 2–20 evenly spaced taps. They drum throughout the year but more frequently during the spring, as a territorial behavior. As with other woodpeckers, the drumming sound functions like a song, and is not associated with feeding.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Acorn Woodpeckers may visit seed and suet feeders near oak woodlands within their range. If Acorn Woodpeckers have discovered your wood siding and begun making holes in it, they can be very difficult to get rid of. People have had some success with hanging strips of shiny ribbon from the eaves or putting balloons in front of the siding to scare the birds away; the surest fix is to switch to an impenetrable siding material. Here's more about keeping away woodpeckers.

Find This Bird

Acorn Woodpeckers are usually pretty easy to find if you take a short walk through open oak or pine-oak forests in their range. Listen for their loud, parrotlike squawks and look for Acorn Woodpeckers perched atop bare treetops. In flight, pay attention to the pattern of three black-and-white flashes—one on each wing, plus the white rump. Keep an eye on the trees as you walk, and you might find one riddled with acorn-filled holes all the way up the trunk and main branches. This is the granary tree, the main food storage “pantry” created and used by communal groups of these fascinating woodpeckers.

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Going Nutty for Acorn Woodpeckers: Story and photographs in Living Bird magazine

Free love and family conflict in cooperative Acorn Woodpeckers: Story in BirdScope.