A year-round resident of Western oak and pine/oak woodlands is the acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). Living in communal groups, this noisy and conspicuous bird is easy to identify.
A medium-sized woodpecker, the acorn has a black back and chest, a black-streaked white belly, a white rump and black bill and legs. Its head is striking – a ring of black around the base of the bill, a red crown, a white forehead, a yellow-tinged throat and black on the sides of the head. The eye is white with a black pupil and always seems to be staring. The literature always refers to the head of an acorn woodpecker as “clownish”, although I personally do not get the impression of a clown when viewing one. The white forehead of the female is separated from the red crown patch by a black band while the white forehead of a male meets the red crown with no black patch intervening – a good field marking to distinguish the sexes.
Acorn woodpeckers have a white patch at the base of their primaries (outermost flight feathers on the wings). This white patch is visible in flight. Given their almost constant loud calls, social nature and distinctive white patch in flight, the acorn woodpecker is not easily confused with other birds.
There is an acorn woodpecker granary tree (tomorrow’s post) along the Pacific Crest Trail near Hat Creek CA, where I took these pictures. A few days ago I spent over an hour there watching a group of acorn woodpeckers interact. Most fascinating birds!!