Acorn woodpeckers are “unusual, socially complex birds,” or in other words, they are rather weird. These woodpeckers live in colonies of up to 16 birds, only a few of which are allowed to breed. When one of the breeders dies, a slot opens up and war ensues. The birds battle each other for days until one wins the spot.
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These are some of the findings from a study, published in Current Biology, that followed a California population of these unusual, socially complex birds. The immense and arduous effort required to win a key place within a territory’s pecking order is matched by an equally rare prize: a breeding position within a communal group of birds that raises offspring together and shares valuable stores of acorns that help them tough out food shortages. But the toll of a battle can be great.
“You can see birds with eyes gouged out, with blood on their plumage—they fall to the ground holding each other’s legs when they’re fighting,” says Sahas Barve, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “These birds have spears for mouths so they can do a lot of damage.”
When the fights happen, birds from other colonies come and watch, maybe to learn what’s in store for them, or to pick up some fighting tips. Read about the extremely weird lives of acorn woodpeckers at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: gailhampshire)