GCBO Bird of the Month
Lewis’s Woodpecker
by Mike Williams

Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes Lewis) was first described by Alexander Wilson in Montana in 1811 and is named after Meriwether Lewis, a noted explorer of the region who discovered it in 1805 during his famous explorations with Clark.

It is a member of the Melanerpes genus, yet somewhat atypical, and some place it in a separated genus named Azyndesimus. It breeds in the northwest of North America from British Columbia and Alberta south to northern California and Arizona. In winter there is some migration being found from Oregon south to Baja, Arizona and New Mexico. This species is somewhat nomadic and can be found intermittently (rare) across western and central Texas in Winter.

Preferred habitats are pine-oak woodlands, grasslands, groves, and occasionally Ponderosa pines. Dead trees for nesting are needed and wood edges with some open lands are preferred.

Lewis’s nest in cavities in dead trees or stumps and lay 4 to 10 white eggs. These nesting cavities are often at considerable height. Incubation time is 13 to 15 days and carried out by both parents. Fledglings stay with parents for three to four weeks, and often form loose flocks with them in the winter, reaching maturity after a year.

Food is typically acorns which are stored in cracks in trees, but will also feed on insects and grasshoppers, and occasionally berries, cherries, and apricots. Carpenter ants are a favorite food source and are often fed to the young. Their food caches are guarded and defended aggressively.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are typically silent and only very occasionally are vocal.  A “chee-up” call is repeated many times when they do call and the parents do make a ticking call when nesting.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are unique and distinctive within their range. A small to medium overall dark woodpecker with a non-typical direct flight. Both sexes have dark glossy green heads with deep crimson face feathers. The breast is gray down to a reddish tinged belly. The gray extends around the neck to form a band. The back and trail are dark grey to black, with a greenish gloss. Juveniles are much drabber but have similar coloring.
Interesting Facts:

·      Lewis’s Woodpeckers are poorly studied but are thought to be in significant decline and maybe as high as a 50% loss since the 19060’s.

·      Meriweather Lewis whom this bird is named after was instrumental in the Louisiana Land Purchase.

·      Lewis’s do not excavate trees for insects like most woodpeckers but are simply insect gleaners or more commonly sally out to fly catch – not typical behavior for a woodpecker.

·      A group of woodpeckers is known as a drumming or a gating.

To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

To donate to us and our conservation work, click HERE