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The antics of the not-so-clever acorn woodpecker

Many years ago I bought a house in Pinar de la Venta at the edge of the Primavera Forest, outside Guadalajara. Among the many birds visiting my backyard were carpinteros (woodpeckers).

pg9aThese were acorn woodpeckers, easily identified from afar by their bright red caps. But even if you couldn’t see one, you could immediately identify a carpintero bellotero, as they are called here, by its less-than-melodious cry.

Never would you be tempted to use the word “song” to describe its rasping squawk (RAKA! RAKA! RAKA!), quite unlike the cheery “ha-ha-ha HA ha!” of its American cousin Woody, whose model appears to have been the pileated woodpecker.

If these birds normally eat acorns, I thought, they might also like peanuts. So I put out a plate of peanuts — and, sure enough, they were gone within an hour … all eaten by squirrels!

I decided to elevate the plate, suspending it at the end of a long string.

This worked. The little redheads came, and I learned a few things about carpinteros.

First of all, they never seem to travel alone. If one of them discovers a plate of peanuts, it immediately notifies the rest of the family — in fact, the whole tribe. If you think one rasping squawk is noisy, you should hear 12 carpinteros going at it all at once.

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