[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: The Unusual Acorn Woodpecker | 04-04-2013
Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
64°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 17
1920 - Actress Maureen O'Hara born in Ireland; 1961 "Parent Trap" uses Disney Golden Oak Ranch [story]


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Apr 4, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugThis is the time of the year when you hear a lot of drumming in the trees. It’s mating time for the acorn woodpecker, and he uses this sound to attract a mate.

It is a common sound in springtime, but the drumming is also a display to mark territory. It consists of two to 20 evenly spaced taps, usually on dead branches, which provide good resonance. It can also be performed on telephone poles or even on your house, to the great dismay of the humans inside who are trying to sleep late. At other times of the year, the drumming is used to communicate with the group.

The acorn woodpecker is a medium-sized bird with bright plumage and a black back, white underparts, red head, and white surrounding the eye, so they are easy to recognize. They tend to spend a lot of time tending their granary, so they are also easy to observe because they stay for some time in one spot. Plus, you may see a collection of them, because they live in a group of up to 15 birds.

Photos courtesy of Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Photos courtesy of Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

The granary is their food reserve; they drill holes with their bill so they can hide enough acorns to last through the winter. They use branches to create the granary, but any wood will do. They even drilled holes in a bulletin board at Walker Ranch and filled it up with acorns for a rainy – or hungry – day. They can hide up to 50,000 acorns in one granary, so the whole group has to be dedicated defending the place.

After the acorns have been stored for a while, they dry out and need to be moved to a smaller hole with a better fit, so the woodpeckers are constantly working and rearranging the granary.

They eat the acorns and also enjoy the worm that develops inside the acorn. They also catch flying insects, ants, beetles and lizards, and they eat fruit, lick sap and even eat eggs of their own species.

eve040413cImagine drumming full speed on a tree and digging holes in the bark to hide acorns. How is it they do not get headaches or even brain damage?

The impact of banging your head against a hard surface 20 times per second seems traumatic, but they are well equipped to do this. Their brain is small and is packed tightly inside the skull, so it does not move along with the movements of the head. The brain is oriented differently, so it maximizes the area of contact between the brain and the skull. In essence, the brain is packed in a very tight box so it gets a lot of support and does not get injured.

Carpenters wear safety goggles when they cut boards, and woodpeckers have something similar as a built-in accessory: a nictitating membrane that closes to protect their eye from wood chips, that they can see through to do their work.

Carpenters sometimes wear a face mask to avoid breathing dust. Acorn woodpeckers have another adaptation: their nostrils are slit-like, so not much can come through, plus they have special feathers to cover them even further.

Their beak continues to grow throughout their life, and because it is a tool that gets lots of use, it is very primordial. Earlier, I wrote they like to drink sap and grab little insects; they are well equipped to do so. They have protractile tongues they can project out of their beak that are sticky and covered with spiky hair at the tip. Again, that is another very useful and effective tool.

eve040413gTheir tail has stiff feathers that help them stay in place when they are working in the tree. To help even more, they have zygodactyl feet. That means they have four toes; the first and the fourth ones face backward, while the second and the third face forward. That helps to grab branches securely. All of these adaptations are important for a bird that can manage to walk vertically up (or down) a tree trunk.

Acorn woodpeckers are gregarious birds, but nowhere does it show more than in the way they mate. They live in a group that has one to seven breeding males and one to three breeding females.

It gets complicated, so read slowly – I am getting lost myself – not every bird will mate each year, but the female can mate with up to four males. All members of the group are close relatives except the co-breeding males. It is a sort of commune, and they seem to prevent interbreeding with this cooperative approach.

The eggs are laid in a cavity in the tree – a round hole that you can see on a trunk or large branch. All of the females lay their eggs in one single nest, but each female destroys the eggs that were in the nest before she lays her own eggs. Consequently, one third of the total number of eggs gets destroyed. The eggs get eaten, so there is no food lost (this is especially important for females laying eggs and needing the energy).

Once all of the females have laid their eggs, they leave the eggs alone, and the eggs are incubated by all members of the group. When the eggs hatch, the babies are also fed by all of the members. Young woodpeckers stay with their community to help feed the babies for a few years. The size of the group can be up to 15 birds.

eve040413aIf the community is large and the juveniles do not get a chance to mate, they will check out other colonies up to 10 miles away from home to be accepted and be able to mate in the new colony.

It is a complex and active community life that had been studied in depth because it is so unusual and interesting.

The acorn woodpecker is a beautiful bird, very vocal and with a busy lifestyle. It is one of the easiest birds to observe at Placerita; there is a large granary before the Walker’s cabin and a few sycamores at the beginning of the Canyon Trail where you can be sure to find them.

Come by now in the springtime to see how many woodpeckers you can spot.

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

eve040413eeve040413deve040413b

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Related Content
RECENT COMMENTARY
Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017
If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to some really bad outcomes, including kidney problems, glaucoma and other eye disorders, foot ulcers, amputation of feet or legs, stroke, diabetic coma, and even death.
Friday, Aug 11, 2017
There is no doubt the vast majority of Democrats and liberals loathe Trump. Certainly all of the leftists thoroughly hate him, and they have some company. They’re called Republicans.
Wednesday, Aug 2, 2017
In his August message to the community, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin details the city's emergency preparedness resources.
Tuesday, Aug 1, 2017
As our first president George Washington said, “We must consult our means rather than our wishes.”
Sunday, Jul 30, 2017
Many shocking surprises have shown up around the world as the ice melts. We’ve found a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth, a field of dead reindeer that died of anthrax, and then last year, infected people in Russia, and in Alaska, an Air Force plane that disappeared was finally found in the Colony Glacier. It had crashed in 1952, killing everyone on board.
Wednesday, Jul 26, 2017
When President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review the status of 27 national monuments created by three former presidents, many across the nation took it as a call to action to advocate on behalf of the monuments closest to their homes, and their hearts.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1920 - Actress Maureen O'Hara born in Ireland; 1961 "Parent Trap" uses Disney Golden Oak Ranch [story]
Farmers and environmentalists are lining up to battle the $16.7 billion California WaterFix tunnels project proposed for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Farmers, Environmentalists Join to Fight California ‘WaterFix’ Project
There's a new Grizzly at Golden Valley High School as Matt Sorensen has been named the school's new head baseball coach.
Matt Sorenson New Head Baseball Coach at Golden Valley
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, Sheriff’s deputies are continuing to conduct burglary suppression operations in our valley. Plus, Representative Steve Knight sat down with local law enforcement to discuss the current state and future role of policing in the SCV. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The Saugus Union School Board is establishing a committee to advise on the development of policies and procedures for the sale or lease of surplus real property owned by the District.
Saugus Board Creates Surplus Property Advisory Committee
The SCV Sanitation Board has provided an update in its efforts to comply with the state-mandated chloride limit, including finalizing the Recirculated EIR released for public comment in May.
SCV Sanitation Board Finalizing EIR Due August 18
"Music, Volume 1," the latest album by platinum recording artist and CalArts' School of Music namesake Herb Alpert, recently reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
Herb Alpert’s Latest Album Tops Billboard Jazz Chart
The Castaic Union School District's Governing Board will hold a special meeting on Thursday, August 17 at 5 p.m.
August 17: Castaic Schools Governing Board Special Meeting
MannKind Corp. is moving its corporate headquarters to Westlake Village, after nearly 17 years in Valencia, according to the latest quarterly report it filed with the SEC.
MannKind Corp. Moving from Valencia to Westlake Village
CalArts grads Mark Bradford and Sharon Lockhart headline the Un-Private Collection artist talk at the Orpheum Wednesday night, presented by the Broad museum of contemporary art.
August 16: CalArtians Mark Bradford, Sharon Lockhart at Broad in L.A.
Santa Clarita Valley International School has hired veteran coach Ken Erenberg as athletic director, the school announced today.
Ken Erenberg Named SCVi Athletic Director
The Los Angeles Dodgers took the first of the two-game Interleague series with a 6-1 victory over the White Sox at Dodger Stadium Tuesday night.
Dodgers Soil White Sox 6-1 Tuesday
40 oz. to Freedom arrives in Santa Clarita as part of its anniversary tour at Concerts in the Park at Central Park on Saturday, August 19, with showtime at 7 p.m.
August 19: 40 Oz. to Freedom Rocks Central Park
Senator Scott Wilk, R- Antelope Valley, today submitted a letter to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation during a public comment period regarding proposed regulations that could lead to the early release of dangerous "nonviolent" inmates and diminish victim rights.
Wilk Urges Public Safety When Releasing ‘Non-Violent’ Felons
The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations released a statement Wednesday morning, condemning the violence and mourning a death in Charlottesville.
County Commission Mourns Death of Charlottesville Protester
Garrett Hampson, the Cal League’s reigning Player of the Week, slugged a two-run home run to lead the Lancaster JetHawks to a 5-3 win over the San Jose Giants on Tuesday night at Municipal Stadium.
Hampson Stays Hot, Lifts ‘Hawks Over Giants
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies arrested three suspects and seized drugs and weapons in a recent burglary suppression operation.
SCV Deputies Arrest 3, Seize Drugs, Weapons
1947 - Newhall Hardware opens on Spruce Street, now called Main Street [story]
Representative Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, sat down with Santa Clarita law enforcement officials to discuss the current state and future role of policing in the SCV.
Knight, Law Enforcement Officials Hold Roundtable Discussion
From the Facebook page of Shirley Miller, public information officer, social media manager at Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station: LASD Carjacker Captured (with some help).
Community Member Tackles Suspected Carjacker
A funeral service for William Clinton Cloyd Sr., a renowned architect and home builder in the Santa Clarita Valley, is being held Wednesday, August 16 in Eternal Valley’s Upper Chapel.
Funeral Services Wednesday for SCV Homebuilder, Architect William Cloyd Sr.
Tonight on SCV NewsBreak, deputies are looking for a hit-and-run suspect. Plus, county supervisors have approved a motion to a establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on public safety.. Watch these stories and more on tonight's edition of SCV NewsBreak.
SCV NewsBreak for Tuesday, August 15, 2017
To kick-start its celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the revival of TMU Theatre Arts, the school is bringing back a favorite.
TMU Celebrates 10th Anniversary Revival of Theater Arts
College of the Canyons is hosting 2017 Professional Development Week — a week of seminars, lectures, and workshops concerning student development and teaching.
COC Professional Development Week Underway
In the fall, College of the Canyons will offer several Associate Degrees for Transfer (AD-T) at the Canyon Country campus, including Business Administration, Psychology, and Sociology.
COC Will Now Offer “Degrees With a Guarantee”
On a motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-0, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining, to establish a “Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety” to explore innovative solutions to criminal justice challenges resulting from statewide reform
Supes Approve Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety
If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to some really bad outcomes, including kidney problems, glaucoma and other eye disorders, foot ulcers, amputation of feet or legs, stroke, diabetic coma, and even death.
Medicare and Your Diabetes | Commentary by Greg Dill
In recent weeks, the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District (GLACVCD) has seen a marked increase in West Nile virus (WNV) activity across its jurisdiction.
County Seeing Increase in West Nile Virus Activity
Arroyo Seco Junior High School will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary on Friday, September 1, with a midday ceremony and festivities.
Sept. 1: Arroyo Seco Junior High Celebrates 50th Anniversary
A veteran investigator of sex crimes in Santa Clarita discussed concerns created by coverage and social media, as part an ongoing KHTS News series.
Social Media Poses New Concerns for Sex Crimes Investigations
On Friday, August 18th, 2017, the California Highway Patrol Newhall Area Office will be conducting a sobriety checkpoint in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County.
DUI Checkpoint Scheduled for Friday
Communication With All Life University and founder Joan Ranquet to present upcoming workshops in learning animal communication, energy healing techniques for animals, and death & the art of dying.
Oct. 6-15: Animal Communication Workshops
Join the VIA Education Foundation and the Valley Industry Association in mentoring today's high school students to prepare them for their future.
VIA School Program Looking for Facilitators to Mentor Students
The city of Santa Clarita will host the 23rd Annual River Rally Cleanup and Environmental Expo on Saturday, September 23, 2017 from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Sept. 22-23: Registration Deadline, Annual River Rally Cleanup
In an effort to make its art holdings more accessible to the public, The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Downtown Los Angeles, created The Un-Private Collection, an ongoing series of conversations with artists whose work is part of The Broad collection.
Aug. 16: CalARTS Alum Featured Artist at The Broad