Acorn woodpeckers look mischievous and dapper in their red caps. They love to store acorns in trees for a very special reason--but it's not for eating them. They enjoy the moth or weevil larvae that come to inhabit the acorns. Woodpeckers store acorns in their granary tree to fetch later in the season.
Acorn woodpeckers are very active now in spring. Their tapping echoes throughout the woods. They love flying insects especially flying ants. They will sporadically fly out to catch a wasp or beetle then return to their perch. They might store it in a tree crevice as a snack later. They also feast on lizards or fruit. In early spring nutrient-rich sap runs up the tree (and in winter down to the roots) so their clan members drill sap wells to satisfy their appetite.
Each woodpecker clan has a granary tree--usually oak or conifer--which can hold up to 50,000 acorns over generations. Anyone in the clan is allowed to eat any acorn no matter who stored it there.
Woodpeckers are loyal to their own clan in a sort of group marriage. The clan consists of breeding females, breeding males, non-breeding adult children and nestlings. The average size is five but there have been reports of as many as sixteen in one nest! The females lay their eggs in the same nest and the whole clan helps tend to the nestlings cooperatively. The non-breeding adults remain for the granary store and to help raise younger generations. They continue to scout for a vacancy at a neighboring clan.
The tree nest usually has two openings about a foot apart. The one arriving can then allow the one incubating the eggs to exit immediately. A bird who leaves with a little sac might be carrying the fecal sac. As soon as the nestlings are fed, they fill their little diaper. This keeps the nest clean.
Did you know that since woodpeckers have to tease larvae out of wood tunnels they have really long tongues? And they don't fit inside their own beaks! The tongue splits in two, wraps up the back of the skull and becomes one muscle again on top of the head. Then it runs over the head and then anchors above the right eye socket. In some it then continues to enter the right nasal cavity, to anchor in the upper mandible.
The Pomo people have been able to forecast a storm by observing woodpeckers switching into high gear industriously collecting and storing their acorns. Within a couple of days a storm usually arrives.
I hope you enjoyed reading Barbara Phelps' blog.
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