The acorn woodpecker

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The acorn woodpecker

Each and every month, Jelle Hoogenboom introduces us to an Anonymous Animal; the unknown creatures that also deserve a place in company logos, animation movies and, of course, our hearts. This month he goes nuts because of a certain bird…

It’s autumn, and animals are preparing for winter. Some will migrate to warmer locations, others eat their belly full for the hibernation. Yet some animals don’t sleep or fly away, but store food for the difficult times. Especially acorns and other nuts are good for this purpose. It makes them a favourite of animals like jays and squirrels, who spend this season hiding them in shallow holes underground. But! The biggest acorn lover of them all is the, appropriately named, acorn woodpecker.

You can find this bird in oak forests in southwest USA, Mexico and Central America. It’s a fun bird to watch. Its colourful plumage is often described as clownlike, and their waka waka call was the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker. Uniquely for a woodpecker, it has a complex social life, living in large family groups of about a dozen birds.

This bird also hoards acorns for the winter. But its storage rooms are not underground. The acorn woodpecker does what a woodpecker does best: drilling holes in trees. They jam the nut in a hole of exactly the right size, so it won’t fall out and is impossible to steal. Feel sorry for the animal who tries to rob it. The hole is guarded by beaks of steel.

The acorn woodpecker doesn’t have to search for its storage, as it always uses the same tree. In fact, the entire family uses this tree for storing acorns, often for many generations. After a while, such a granary tree can be riddled with up to 50,000 holes. This won’t harm the tree, as they only pick dead branches. The type of tree doesn’t matter. Oaks are popular, but granaries have even been found in man-made trees like telephone poles and wooden cabins.

Ha! Anything to survive the winter.

Illustration: Elizabeth Romanini