All About Acorn Woodpeckers: Ultimate Stockpilers

Tap into what makes these quirky, clownish woodpeckers so unique. Acorn woodpeckers live in large social groups and hoard thousands of acorns in trees.

acorn woodpeckersMarie Read
It can be difficult to tell female and male acorn woodpeckers apart. But while both sexes have a red cap and a white forehead, the females have a black band separating the two.

When it comes to hoarding food, few birds compare to the acorn woodpecker. Unlike woodpeckers that tap their way into tree trunks to mow down insects, these western birds bore small, tidy holes into wood where they store acorns (and sometimes other nuts) by the thousands. In fact, just one acorn woodpecker family unit may create a winter stockpile of up to 50,000 acorns in a single tree, called a granary.

One bird stands guard against any would-be thieves as the others focus on building their impressive cache. To make sure their treasures stay put, the birds knock each acorn into a hole, using their beaks as makeshift mallets. If an acorn starts to loosen, one of the woodpeckers will move it to a better-fitting cavity. Learn why birds cache food.

What Do Acorn Woodpeckers Eat?

Despite its name, an acorn woodpecker eats more than just acorns and other nuts. They also consume ants and flying insects that they snatch out of the air. Tree sap, fruit and even lizards are on the menu, too. Keep your suet and seed feeders well-stocked. Here’s the best foods for woodpeckers.

acorn woodpeckerCourtesy Kitty Warner
Acorn woodpeckers eating an orange

Acorn Woodpecker Nesting Habits

Acorn woodpeckers are highly social birds. They live together in groups of up to 12 or more, and they nest and raise their broods communally. The breeding females often keep their eggs together in a shared nest, which is always inside a tree cavity. Multiple members help incubate the eggs. Acorn woodpeckers don’t build their nests, though. Instead, they utilize fresh wood chips, which accumulate inside tree cavities thanks to their pecking, as nesting material.

Once the young are born, other family members work alongside the parents to rear and feed the young. It’s common for grown offspring from the previous year to assist their parents in raising the new brood.

Learn about different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.

Do Acorn Woodpeckers Migrate?

Because they are masters at storing supplies for winter, acorn woodpeckers are resident birds, meaning they don’t typically migrate unless they run out of food. They can be seen year-round in areas with oak and pine-oak woodlands, including some suburban areas and urban parks. You can attract these rowdy birds to your backyard if you live in range (western Oregon, California and the Southwest).

Check out photos of common North American woodpeckers.

Where to See Acorn Woodpeckers

Although the antics of acorn woodpeckers are fascinating, these birds sometimes store their food in human-made structures, from telephone poles to the sides of buildings. Your best bet for seeing these quirky woodpeckers in person is to take a walk through the woods. If you find a tree riddled with holes and hear a waka-waka call, look up!

This species lives year-round in western Oregon and California woodlands. They can also be found in the Southwest and south of the border in Mexico and Central America.

Next, learn everything you need to know about red-bellied woodpeckers.

Kaitlin Stainbrook
Kaitlin Stainbrook, Associate Editor, Birds & Blooms Although Kaitlin is a newbie when it comes to birding and gardening, she loves getting to learn on the job. (She's already impressed a few friends by being able to identify a couple songbirds!) Previously, she worked on other Reader's Digest magazines like Reminisce and Country Woman. Hidden talents include playing the ukulele and speaking Japanese.