Thursday, December 2, 2010

Foraging for Dinner

Acron Woodpecker

An acorn woodpecker pounds and probes deep into the rotten wood of an old oak. We see him nab a grub and move on to repeat the process. Usually life is a little easier for him at this time of year. He is working on a dead limb that is part of one of the two granary trees this colony uses. Most years the half dozen woodpeckers that live in this little canyon will have harvested thousands of acorns and put each in its own hole. They save energy by using the same granary tree year after year. Last March a high percentage of the holes in this tree were still full. There had been plenty of acorns for the whole winter and more.

But this year the acorn crop was exceptionally poor. During the summer I searched the surrounding trees with my binoculars and could see just a few acorns. For awhile the granary tree held a few acorns from the new crop, but it is already empty. Fortunately the woodpeckers eat other things too … grubs, insects, other seeds, but acorns are their primary winter food. Already most of the woodpeckers are gone from this canyon. I can only hope they are foraging elsewhere. I even had one at my feeder the other day. He was helping himself to my sunflower seeds.

An acorn woodpecker in happier days. This is one of my illustrations from “Birds of Oregon: A General Reference.”


  1. Your sketches are fantastic. I will never forget the first time I saw some of these raucous birds collecting and storing their nuts. I didn't want to leave the area. I could have stayed as long as they worked but we had to move on.

  2. These marvelous sketches bring back the memory of when I first saw these beautiful woodpeckers. I got to watch them store their nuts in some trees. I could have stayed all day they were so busy. They didn't mind the audience.

  3. I always learn something from you, Elva! Such clever creatures to keep using the same trees. Our acorn crop has been even better than usual DESPITE the drought we're in. Go figure!

  4. I have'nt seen one of these in our area, but we do have the red caps, and the smaller ones. I just love your birds.

  5. Dear Elva,
    Your drawings and writing always make me happy. I love an oak tree, but I have not seen an Acorn Woodpecker here. Your post makes me feel like skethcing an old oak at uni;). Thank you for the wonderful post.
    Cheers, Sadami