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You'd Never Guess What an Acorn Woodpecker Eats | Deep Look

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 Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science
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OK. Maybe you would. But the lengths they have to go to to stock up for the winter *will* surprise you. When you see how carefully they arrange each acorn, you might just need to reorganize your pantry.

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Have you ever wondered why woodpeckers pound so incessantly?

In the case of acorn woodpeckers – gregarious black and red birds in California’s oak forests – they’re building an intricate pantry, a massive, well-organized stockpile of thousands of acorns to carry them through the winter.

“They’re the only animals that I know of that store their acorns individually in holes in trees,” said biologist Walter Koenig, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who has studied acorn woodpeckers for decades at the University of California’s Hastings Natural History Reservation in Carmel Valley.

Over generations, acorn woodpeckers can drill thousands of small holes into one or several trees close to each other, giving these so-called granaries the appearance of Swiss cheese.

This sets them apart from other birds that drop acorns into already-existing cavities in trees, and animals like squirrels and jays that bury acorns in the ground.

In spring and summer, hikers in California commonly see acorn woodpeckers while the birds feed their chicks and care for their granaries. They don’t mind people staring at them and they’re easy to find. They greet each other with loud cries that sound like “waka-waka-waka.”

They’re also found in Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and all the way south to Colombia.

These avian performers are constantly tapping, drilling and pounding at their granaries.

“They’ll usually have a central granary, maybe two trees that a group is using,” said Koenig. “Those trees are going to be close together.”

Acorn woodpeckers make their granaries in pines, oaks, sycamores, redwoods and even in the palm trees on the Stanford University campus.

Their holes rarely hurt the trees. The birds only bore into the bark, where there’s no sap, or they make their granaries in snags.

“They don’t want sap in the hole because it will cause the acorn to rot,” said Koenig. “The point of storing the acorns is that it protects them from other animals getting them and it allows them to dry out.”

--- What is an acorn?
It’s the fruit of the oak.

--- Do acorn woodpeckers only eat acorns?
In the spring, acorn woodpeckers have their choice of food. They catch insects, eat oak flowers and suck the sap out of shallow holes on trees like coast live oaks.

---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:
https://www.kqed.org/science/1925251/youd-never-guess-what-an-acorn-woodpecker-eats

---+ For more information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Acorn_Woodpecker/overview

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---+ About KQED

KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the Templeton Religion Trust and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.
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