Acorn woodpeckers enact their own ‘Game of Thrones’ among the oaks

acorn woodpecker with tag

This acorn woodpecker at the Hastings reserve near Carmel is outfitted with a light-weight tracking tag, complete with solar backpack and antenna, that allows researchers to study its interactions with other woodpeckers. Hana Londoño Oikawa photo.

Thanks to new lightweight tags that allow researchers to track the interactions among acorn woodpeckers at the UC Hastings Natural History Reservation, biologists are finding that the birds are a lot more sly and strategic than researchers thought, playing out their own “Game of Thrones” in the oak woodlands.

In an article for the website of the UC Natural Reserve System, writer Kathleen Wong describes how the miniaturized tracking tags, powered by a solar backpack, are changing biologists’ views of these noisy, acorn-hoarding birds. The picture that emerges is of a bird with an astonishingly complex social life that includes dropping in on kin for friendly visits, foraying with siblings and rallying the family to seize richer digs.

“You’d think that after almost 50 years of study, we’d know all there was to know about acorn woodpeckers. But this technology is helping us to answer questions we couldn’t answer before,” said Eric Walters, a biology professor at Old Dominion University, Virginia, who conducts research at the reservation.

The field station, located in Carmel Valley some 25 miles southeast of Carmel-by-the-Sea, is overseen by UC Berkeley for the Natural Reserve System.

Solar tags illuminate woodpecker ways