Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Favorite Woodpecker

"Without birds, trees would be very lonely and men too!"
                                                        ~ Mehmet Murat ildan

I won't say that woodpeckers are my favorite birds since there are so many fascinating types of birds; pelicans with their built-in fishing nets, hawks with vision eight times better than ours, hummingbirds that hold their nests together with spider webs, but woodpeckers are up there on my list. However, I can unequivocally say that, from the first time I saw them featured on a nature show, the acorn woodpecker has been my favorite type of woodpecker.

My first sighting of an acorn woodpecker was outside of Portland, Oregon a few years ago. The single dejected specimen sitting motionless high up in a tree was a far cry from the lively and comical birds I expected. Maybe it had been a particularly gloomy winter in Portland that year. After fifteen minutes of observing this bird and seeing nothing more exciting than it turning its head once, I walked away hoping that my second sighting would be more in line with what I had heard about acorn woodpeckers.

It's taken a few years, but recently I was in California and finally had the good fortune to spot more acorn woodpeckers - this time a group of them checking out a power pole near our hotel. They were everything I'd hoped for: gregarious, vocal, colorful. They didn't seem to mind all the traffic speeding beneath them, either. The fifteen minutes that I spent observing this group before they flew off to a grove of palm trees more than made up for my first sighting.

One of the fascinating things about acorn woodpeckers is that they hoard acorns by drilling individual holes in trees or telephone poles (or wood siding) to store each of their hundreds of acorns in. I didn't get to observe this behavior, but this 3 minute video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some nice footage. I'm hoping that if I'm lucky enough to see acorn woodpeckers a third time, I'll get to see their acorn storage system in action.

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