One of the trails near the NC Botanical Garden goes up through an acorn forest with huge oaks. Here it is still possible to find Red Headed Woodpeckers selecting “granary trees” that is, trees with cracks and crevices into which the woodpecker will insert acorns.
I observed a juvenile Red-Headed Woodpecker (pictured above) flying to the outer branches of oak trees, thrashing around a bit to remove an acorn, then flying over to this snag and inserting acorns into the little holes it had drilled. It spent part of its time pecking new holes and expanding cracks and crevices in the dying tree trunk, and part of its time snapping acorns off the nearby still living trees.
To survive, Red-Headed Woodpeckers depend on oak forests with an adequate supply of acorns as well as “granary trees” – that is, trees with dying trunks or branches where the woodpeckers can open cracks or holes for storing acorns. Other birds and squirrels can raid granary trees, so this woodpecker must store enough to compensate for the loss of some of its acorn supply. For species like this one, survival is a time consuming endeavor.
This granary behavior allows these woodpeckers (as well as the Acorn Woodpecker in the West) to store a supply of food for the winter. In the fall, they can be observed stuffing acorns into crevices of old trees, and throughout the winter and early spring they can be seen retrieving those acorns.
Visit www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red–Headed_Woodpecker/id to learn more about the Red Headed Woodpecker.
Jim McCormac’s blog shares additional detailed observations and great photos of a Red Headed Woodpecker storing acorns in the crevices of an old oak tree.