Acorn Woodpecker

Melanerpes formicivorus
Range Map

Acorn Woodpeckers are closely associated with oak woods and are most often found in pine-oak woodlands. These bold and striking birds live in complex social units, storing and guarding acorns as an extended family, and cooperatively raising their young. These family groups may include multiple breeding adults, often with twice as many males as female breeding adults. These groups usually have more non-breeding members than breeders, and these non-breeders contribute to rearing of the season’s newest generation.

When the cartoonist Walter Lantz developed the character of Woody Woodpecker, he modeled the look of the character on the Pileated Woodpecker, but he gave it a voice of the Acorn Woodpecker. His actress wife Grace Stafford’s imitation of that voice became the soundtrack those of us who grew up in the 1950s will remember.

As one might guess from their name, these birds gather and store thousands of acorns, placing them in tight fitting holes made in a standing tree (live or dead) called a larder tree. As the acorns dry, they shrink. These birds will vigilantly monitor the status of their cache and move the acorns to smaller holes as they shrink.

I feel fortunate to have grown up where these sharp-dressed birds are common. At my home in southern California, packs of these iconic birds visit my water feature several times a day.

Taxonomists separate the Acorn Woodpeckers into seven subspecies:

  • M. f. bairdi lives in the western United States from Washington south to northern Baja California (Mexico).
  • M. f. formicivorus lives from southern Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas south through southern Mexico.
  • M. f. albeolus lives from southern Mexico to northern Central America.
  • M. f. lineatus lives from southern Mexico south to Guatemala and Nicaragua.
  • M. f. striatipectus lives in the mountains of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
  • M. f. flavigula lives in the northern Andes Mountains of South America.
  • M. f. angustifrons lives in the mountains of southern Baja California (Mexico).



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