The Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus is one of a small number of woodpecker species that are cooperative breeders, living in family groups of up to 15 individuals of both sexes and all ages and exhibiting a complex mating system involving multiple cobreeders of both sexes (polygynandry). Although much has been learned concerning the social organisation and ecology of this species, over 45 years of research at Hastings Reservation, central coastal California, USA, has left us with a large number of unanswered questions ranging from relatively minor issues such as why adults have white eyes and why juveniles have a plumage similar to adult males to more major issues such as how cavity limitation could act as a driver of their unique social behaviours and how brood reduction is adaptive. Here we briefly discuss some of these questions and speculate as to how they might be addressed by future work. Long-term studies are important as a means of addressing many demographic and behavioural questions, but are even more valuable as a means of generating new questions that would have been overlooked without detailed knowledge of natural history and general ecology.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2