Acorn Woodpeckers live in family groups of up to 15 individuals. Over time, if enough birds die off, an opportunity arises for unrelated birds to join the group and obtain a mate. Then, battles known as “power struggles” begin. Birds from other family groups form coalitions, with up to 30 birds in the skirmishes. Winners take all: mates, breeding territory, and thousands of acorns.
Woodpeckers Wage Wars
Written by Richa Malhotra
This is BirdNote.
[Acorn Woodpecker call, https://www.xeno-canto.org/403203, 0.00-.05]
Acorn Woodpeckers love their acorns, so much so that they will go to war over them — and for a chance to mate. In the oak forests of the West, these birds live in family groups of up to 15 individuals. Over time, if enough birds die off, an opportunity arises for unrelated birds to join the group and obtain a mate. And the woodpecker wars — known as “power struggles” — begin.
[Acorn Woodpecker drumming, https://www.xeno-canto.org/323871, 0.53-.55]
Birds from other family groups form coalitions, usually consisting of brothers or sisters. Then… game on. Up to 30 birds engage in the battle at one time in a frenzied display of wings, loud cries, and physical attacks that can result in injury or even death.
[Recording of woodpeckers fighting by Eric L. Walters, 1.15-1.25 https://www.dropbox.com/s/j0oxx7nzdpa5khz/Acorn%20Woodpecker%20territor…]
The war may go on for days or even weeks. Some woodpeckers fly in from distances of more than three kilometers. Some are there only as “spectators,” perhaps to gather intel on the competing alliances. Or maybe they enjoy a good show as much as we do.
Winners take all: mates, breeding territory, and acorns, thousands of them, which get them through the winters and help nourish their chicks come spring.
[Acorn Woodpecker drumming, https://www.xeno-canto.org/323871, 0.53-.55, 0.58-1.00]
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Production Manager: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Acorn Woodpecker XC403202 S. recorded by S. Olmstead, Acorn Woodpecker
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2021 BirdNote May 2021 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# ACWO-03-2021-05-06 ACWO-03
And thanks to Dr. Joey Haydock for his input.