Foraging patterns of acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) on valley oak (Quercus lobata Née) in two California oak savanna-woodlands

Douglas G. Scofield, Victor Ryan Alfaro, Victoria L. Sork, Delphine Grivet, Edith Martinez, Jeannette Papp, Andrea R. Pluess, Walter D. Koenig, Peter E. Smouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Landscape characteristics and social behavior can affect the foraging patterns of seed-dependent animals. We examine the movement of acorns from valley oak (Quercus lobata) trees to granaries maintained by acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) in two California oak savanna-woodlands differing in the distribution of Q. lobata within each site. In 2004, we sampled Q. lobata acorns from 16 granaries at Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Barbara County and 18 granaries at Hastings Reserve in Monterey County. Sedgwick has lower site-wide density of Q. lobata than Hastings as well as different frequencies of other Quercus species common to both sites. We found acorn woodpeckers foraged from fewer Q. lobata seed source trees (Kg = 4.1 ± 0.5) at Sedgwick than at Hastings (Kg = 7.6 ± 0.6) and from fewer effective seed sources (Nem* = 2.00 and 5.78, respectively). The differences between sites are due to a greater number of incidental seed sources used per granary at Hastings than at Sedgwick. We also found very low levels of seed source sharing between adjacent granaries, indicating that territoriality is strong at both sites and that each social group forages on its own subset of trees. We discovered an interesting spatial pattern in the location of granaries. At Sedgwick, acorn woodpeckers situated their granaries within areas of higher-than-average tree density, while at Hastings, they placed them within areas of lower-than-average tree density, with the outcome that granaries at the two sites were located in areas of similar valley oak density. Our results illustrate that landscape characteristics might influence the number of trees visited by acorn woodpeckers and the locations of territories, while woodpecker social behavior, such as territoriality, shapes which trees are visited and whether they are shared with other social groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-196
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Acorn woodpecker
  • Foraging behavior
  • Habitat preferences
  • Probability of maternal identity (PMI)
  • UC Natural Reserve System


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