Acorn Woodpecker

Melanerpes formicivorus


Conservation and Management

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

You are currently viewing one of the free species accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of North America. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this species.

For complete access to all species accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In

Effects of Human Activity

Because of this species' abundance, Native Americans in California and perhaps elsewhere used the Acorn Woodpecker for food and even developed specialized traps to catch birds as they emerged from their roost holes. Feathers were used for ornamentation on garments: one existing full-size cape is completely covered with red crown feathers from what may have been several thousand individual birds.

More recently, the primary threats to this species are from habitat loss and degradation. In the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, much of the montane riparian and pine–oak habitat where this woodpecker occurs has been damaged by overgrazing, which has probably lead to substantial population declines in many areas (158). Poor regeneration of oaks in California is likely to have a major effect on this species in the future, but there is no indication of population declines at this time; on the contrary, the population at Hastings Reservation has significantly increased over the past several decades apparently due largely to canopy regrowth of existing trees (Hagemeyer et al. submitted). In all areas, conversion of oak, encinal, pine–oak, and riparian forests to other uses causes substantial loss of habitat. Additional threats include competition for nest holes from introduced European Starlings (see Behavior: Agonistic Behavior), destruction of oak and pine granaries for firewood or development, the occasional legal and illegal shooting of birds to prevent depredation of nut and fruit crops and damage to structures, and loss of oak habitat due to climate change. As for the latter, studies based on climate modeling suggest that the distributions of valley oak (Quercus lobata) and blue oak (Q. douglasii), two of the most common oak species in California, could shrink by 54–59% within the next century due to climate change (169) and be subject to regional extinctions (170).


Still widely distributed; probably continues to occupy most of its pre-Columbian range. It is likely, however, that populations subject to habitat degradation or conversion have declined (158). Conservation of this species will depend on the maintenance of functional ecosystems that provide the full range of resources upon which the species depends. These include mature forests with oaks capable of producing large mast crops and places for the woodpeckers to nest, roost, and store mast. Management practices that preserve the historical age structure of forests, with an emphasis on snags and dead limbs used for granaries and nesting, are particularly important (158). Until recently, many of these trees and snags were removed because they were viewed as hazards or because they might attract lightning strikes. Fortunately, like many woodpecker species, the Acorn Woodpecker adapts well to the presence of humans if not persecuted and readily uses anthropogenic structures such as utility poles and buildings for roost and storage locations. Individuals will even feed on and store dog food if it is available.

Recommended Citation

Koenig, W. D., E. L. Walters, P. B. Stacey, M. T. Stanback, and R. L. Mumme (2019). Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.