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Saturday, November 21, 2015

To Catch an Acorn Thief

This afternoon we watched two striking Lewis's Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) at Crane Creek Regional Park.

They spent some time hawking insects from the tops of trees providing nice views in flight:

We also watched one of the woodpeckers feeding on cached acorns in an oak tree:

Then we noticed that someone else was interested in the acorns, too:

Did you spot the Oak Titmouse at the top of the picture?

Here's a different view of the two species in one photo.  Can you find the titmouse?

(The titmouse is just right of center at the bottom of the image.) 

It was interesting to watch the woodpecker and the titmouse interact.  The woodpecker would remove an acorn from a crevice, then bring it to the horizontal branch to break it into pieces.  Sometimes the woodpecker would fly off before it had finished the entire acorn, and the titmouse would be waiting to sneak out to the branch to steal some "crumbs."  But the woodpecker was vigilant and protective.  As soon as it realized the titmouse was near the branch, the woodpecker swooped down to chase the titmouse away. 

Sure, the woodpecker had done all the work of finding and caching the acorns in the first place.  And the titmouse was behaving like a thief (or kleptoparasite).  But watching this, it was hard not to root for the titmouse, at least occasionally.

Although most of the titmouse's attempts ended in failure, here's what happened at least once:

Yes!  The Oak Titmouse was successful in securing a piece of an acorn. 

It made us wonder — How much time does the titmouse spend trying to sneak in for "crumbs"?  How much time does the woodpecker spend trying to defend its cache?  It also made us appreciate how highly valued acorns must be.

P.S.  If you're interested in seeing the Lewis's Woodpeckers, try walking the Creek Trail at Crane Creek Regional Park in Santa Rosa.


Linda C said...

I continue to look forward to these posts, and really enjoy your close observations of things familiar and unfamiliar in my favorite corner of the world. Thanks, Jackie.

woodworth said...

Beautiful pics and great narrative! Thanks Jackie, Best, Paddy