If you live or spend time in eastern Arizona, western New Mexico or the Pacific coast, here’s an unusual woodpecker worth discovering and watching. The Acorn Woodpecker is a striking beauty birders love to watch and photograph.

With their red caps, alert yellow-ringed eyes and black-and- white plumage, they’re easy to spot and quite photogenic. But there’s also a lot more going on with these birds than you’d expect.

Unusual birds that are fun to watch

True to their name, in the late summer and into fall, the Acorn Woodpecker stays busy gathering up acorns, stuffing them into little holes they've drilled into a tree's surface for their winter food source. Unlike other songbirds that store food Blue Jays bury acorns in the ground, and chickadees hide seeds in tree bark and other nooks and crannies), the Acorn Woodpecker gets it done on this impressively systematic scale.

The Acorn Woodpecker maintains a stockpile of acorns. If you see one of their granary trees, its branches and trunk are just covered in little acorn-filled holes. These holes are not the work of one bird in a single season, but the work of a large flock of Acorn Woodpeckers over many years. They live in colonies of 15-20 birds, and for generations they’ll defend, supply, maintain and add holes to their granary tree. Over time, the flock creates as many as 50,000 openings.

In their granary tree, you’ll find a single nest cavity where a select group of females lay eggs. All members of the flock contribute to the feeding and care of the nestlings. (To truly appreciate the unique communal lifestyle of the Acorn Woodpecker, this article by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a must-read.) If you happen to stumble across one of the bird's granary trees, stop and watch these birds interact and spread their handsomely marked wings in a show of display. 

Yes, you can feed them

The Acorn Woodpecker is comfortable living alongside humans and known to readily visit bird feeders. If you have wooden siding on your home, beware - as these woodpeckers might decide to use it for their drumming ritual and cause unwanted damage. If you’re one of the lucky ones who lives near a flock, be sure to stock your platform feeder with Lyric Woodpecker Mix.

Acorn Woodpecker in a tree. Thinkstock
Acorn stashes in a tree trunk. Thinkstock