Fact Check

Do Some Woodpeckers Store Acorns in Specialized Tree Holes?

Some trees are said to have up to 50,000 holes in them, bored by generations of acorn woodpeckers.

Published Jul 11, 2022

The acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) is a medium-sized woodpecker, 21 cm (8.3 in) long, with an average weight of 85 g (3.0 oz).

The adult acorn woodpecker has a brownish-black head, back, wings and tail, white forehead, throat, belly and rump. The eyes are white. (Getty Images)
Image Via Getty Images
Claim:
Some species of woodpeckers store acorns in holes thoughtfully carved in trees.

Fact Check

Equal parts beautiful and bizarre, birds and the many facets of their existence frequently figure in inquiries that come across the Snopes news desk. One such inquiry involved the acorn woodpecker, which is a very real species known to bore holes into trees to stash — you guessed it — acorns for future feeding.

In July 2022, a widely shared Facebook post published by the page Wild Free was brought to the attention of our fact-checking team. It read:

Photographs credited to Lorraine Bruno authentically showed a black-and-white-feathered woodpecker with a vibrant, red head appearing to store dozens of acorns in meticulously carved holes in a tree. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that the aptly named acorn woodpeckers “excavate custom holes into trees that are the perfect size to hold an unusual food — acorns.”

Acorn woodpeckers work in groups to “maintain and defend” their acorn collections. Each tree is called a “granary” by ornithologists, and is reused over generations to store winter food supplies.

“As dependent as acorn woodpeckers are on this communal food resource, it is not surprising that they are also highly social birds. They live in stable groups of roughly a dozen individuals and have evolved an unusual polygynandrous mating system in which multiple males and females share a single nest cavity and communally raise chicks,” writes the lab.

Described by Audubon as “clown-faced,” acorn woodpeckers live in small colonies along the western U.S. coast, from Oregon to California and down to parts of Mexico, as well as into parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Individuals in the group harvest acorns in the fall and store them in hole-studded trees for future feeding in subsequent seasons. Unlike other woodpeckers, those of the acorn species rarely excavate insects from the wood of trees. Acorns make up roughly half of their diet, in addition to ants, fruits, seeds, and sometimes other bird eggs.

Acorn woodpeckers almost exclusively bore holes in dead oak trees. Such a granary may be riddled with up to 50,000 holes, notes Audubon. Because of their reliance on oak trees, scientists say that though the red-headed pecker is still widespread and common, they may be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Do Some Woodpeckers Store Acorns in Specialized Tree Holes?
Acorn Woodpecker clinging to the side of an Oak tree that is studded with "saved" acorns

For more bird nerd content, be sure to check out the Snopes birds collection and the following articles:


Sources

“Acorn Woodpecker.” Audubon, 13 Nov. 2014, https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/acorn-woodpecker.

Thompson, Mya. Storing Food: The Granaries of Acorn Woodpeckers | Bird Academy • The Cornell Lab. 4 Oct. 2013, https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/storing-food-the-granaries-of-acorn-woodpeckers/.

Through the Lens: Acorn Woodpecker. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKrXQfw7dJw. Accessed 11 July 2022.

Madison Dapcevich is a former writer for Snopes.

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