Posted by: atowhee | January 28, 2019



“One of the most pleasantly familiar sounds in the live-oak belt inhabited by formicivorous and its allies is the ja-cob, ja-cob, ja-cob, ja-cob uttered by these handsome woodpeckers as they fly from tree to tree, their white rump and wing latches showing as they go….They always have a great deal to say…. But their small talk never seems to interfere with their work, and the acorn-filled tree trunks and telegraph poles attest their industry.”                                     –Florence Merriam Bailey, 1902.


For the first time in more than three years of feeding birds in our garden, an Acorn Woodpecker showed up and ate some sunflower seeds.  The bird ignored our suet feeders.  There is a colony of Acorn Woodpeckers nearby.  Only a quarter-mile away I often see and hear their laughter in a grove of mature oaks.  I had not seen one outside the grove before.

Melanerpes formicivorous. “Melanerpes” is a word from Greek roots first used by William Swainson in the early 19th century.  “Melan” comes from “melas” which means black.  “Erpes” is shortened form of “herpes” for creeper.

“Formicivorous” means feeding on ants.  Would have been far more apropos for the flicker or aardvark.

One of the original common names for this species was “California Woodpecker” though they are found in western Oregon and south into Central America.

Here in Yamhill County intensive agriculture and sprawling urbanization has reduced the number of oak groves where these colonial birds can thrive. I know of four colonies here in McMinnville, one endangered because developers want to cut down their oaks.  Any habitat Acorn Woodpeckers occupy in this area must support more than a pair.  These birds are evolved socialists.  Colonies may include a dozen or more adults.  Acorn cache, nesting cavity, roosting places, rearing of young—all these are community property.  The group depends upon all its members for survival, defense of acorn granaries against squirrel and jay, nest cavities against squirrel and now starlings, general co-operation.  They are a model we should heed as climate change makes human survival on earth less and less tenable.

Some information from Birds of North America Online: “Group living and acorn storage are not characteristic of all populations. This is generally a sedentary species, but at least one population migrates annually and irregular migrations occur elsewhere when local acorn crops fail.”

“Main Foods Taken:  Insects, especially flying ants and other Hymenoptera and Coleoptera, acorns (both immature and stored), sap, oak catkins, fruit, flower nectar, and occasional grass seeds, lizards, and bird eggs…. Often sits at the tops of trees while flycatching, otherwise forages primarily in or near the canopy. Acorns are picked directly off trees; birds rarely go to the ground except to obtain grit and to pick up acorns inadvertently dropped.”

These birds and their near cousins, Lewis’s Woodpeckers, are agiel fly-catchers, often flying sorties from treetops if there are sufficient flying insects about.  Not often in January, however, in this climate.  Check back in May.



The berry thicket near the pond was leaking birds in the winter sun: sparrows, and then a bustling flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers plus a single wren, some jays and a collared-dove.


There’ll be the wrens’ jazzy song in the air soon.  All it takes is sunlight.  I heard one signing a couple weeks back.  Today “our” pair of Bewick’s were in the garden together, seeding, i.e. eating sunflower bits off the cement. Both images shot through a window:bews-two_libw-pavemnt

No Name Pond, McMinnville, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 28, 2019. 15 species

Northern Shoveler  8
Mallard  16
Northern Pintail  12
Green-winged Teal (American)  25
Ring-necked Duck  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Anna’s Hummingbird  1
California Scrub-Jay  2
Bewick’s Wren  1
American Robin  2
Golden-crowned Sparrow  9
Song Sparrow  3
Spotted Towhee  2
Red-winged Blackbird  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler  10

820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Jan 28, 2019.  12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove  X
Acorn Woodpecker 1   !
California Scrub-Jay  2
Bushtit  20
Bewick’s Wren  2
European Starling  X
American Goldfinch  1
Dark-eyed Junco  25
Golden-crowned Sparrow  2
Spotted Towhee  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
House Sparrow  X


*BIRDING MALHEUR *  May 22-27 & June 7-12  * 5 Nights * Leader :  Harry Fuller *  $900 / $850 RV *

BIRDING MALHEUR & STEENS MT *  Sept  16-22 * 6 Nights * Leader :  Harry Fuller * $1000 / $940 RV

Cost includes all meals and accommodations at Malheur Field Station on the wildlife refuge.

About Harry Fuller:  Harry has lived in Oregon since 2007.  He has been leading bird trips and teaching bird classes since the 1990s.  He annually leads birding trips in Oregon and Washington for Klamath Bird Observatory, Road Scholar and Golden Gate Audubon.   See more at:
To register contact the Malheur Field Station at 541-493-2629

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