Where can I put my nuts?

Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are one of the four North American woodpeckers that store food, especially large seeds like acorns.  They stash whole or pieces of seeds and nuts in cracks and crevices, pounding them into place with a few mighty whacks of their chisel bill.  But not just any hole will do as a storage site, as I learned from watching this handsome male while he decided where to stash his prize.

"I have an acorn, jolly, jolly acorn; I have an acorn, but don't know where to put it"

“I’ve got an acorn, jolly, jolly acorn; I’ve got an acorn, but don’t know where to put it” (to the tune of “I’ve got Sixpence”)

First the bird tried hammering the acorn into the cavity next to a branch.

First the bird tried hammering the acorn into the cavity next to a dead branch.

After pounding on it a few times, he took the acorn out again to try a different place.

After pounding on it a few times, he took the acorn out again to try a different place.

Then he tried a notch on the under side of the branch.

Then he tried a notch on the under side of the branch.

Nope, this wasn't working either.  It's not hidden well enough.

Nope, this wasn’t working either. It’s not hidden well enough.

He retrieved his acorn and flew to a different branch, but there were no niches for acorn insertion.

He retrieved his acorn and flew to a different branch, but there were no niches for acorn insertion here.

He finally gives up and takes off for another tree.

He finally gave up, looked around for a better caching site, and flew off.

Red-bellied woodpeckers are year-round residents in the eastern U.S., but just barely make it into southeastern Minnesota, where there are still plenty of oak trees and back yard bird feeders to support them through the winter.

But the real trick is finding the stash when you need it on a cold, winter day.   As you might expect, birds that cache seed are really good at remembering where they put it, even weeks and months later.  Scrub Jays, in fact, were better than the graduate students studying them, in remembering not only the exact location of the cached seed, but how long ago they stored it.

For more information on the fantastic memory skills of the “bird brain”, check out the video below.

9 thoughts on “Where can I put my nuts?

    • Mine too, and I love the way they chatter the whole time, giving a running commentary about what they are doing. It reminds me of someone talking to themselves as they work.

  1. I have enough trouble keeping track of my car keys, even though I try to put them in the same place every time! Great photos, Sue, of a beautiful bird. I love the coloration of woodpeckers and this one is gorgeous. I especially like the penultimate shot, with the blurry leaves in the background. It is truly amazing that birds and animals can cache food and remember where they put it.

    • The color (and the light) was just perfect for these shots. Actually the bird was pretty far away up in a tree that just happened to be highlighted with a shaft of sunlight. Lucky shots!

  2. Those are very beautiful pictures of a very beautiful bird! Makes me remember fondly a morning cup of coffee during which I watched a busy black-capped chickadee store sunflower seeds from our feeder behind the edges of the neighbor’s storm windows!

  3. Pingback: The Best of 2013 | Back Yard Biology

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