Photo: Acorn woodpeckers are a lesson in unique family dynamics

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Our photo of the day highlights the complicated social systems of these acorn-hoarding beauties.

As it turns out, acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) are not your ordinary woodpeckers. Photographer Mark Heatherington, who took this photo in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, writes: I witnessed these two adult females and another adult male feeding the young. I found this odd until I researched their breeding behavior.

From the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology: Acorn Woodpeckers are very unusual woodpeckers that live in large groups, hoard acorns, and breed cooperatively.... The Acorn Woodpecker has a very complicated social system. Family groups hold territories, and young woodpeckers stay with their parents for several years and help the parents raise more young. Several different individuals of each sex may breed within one family, with up to seven breeding males and three breeding females in one group.

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