Photo: Pam Koch/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Lewis's Woodpecker

Melanerpes lewis

One of our oddest woodpeckers (and not only because of its colors, which include pink, silver, and oily green). Although it climbs trees in woodpecker style, it feeds mostly by catching insects in acrobatic flight: swooping out from a perch like a flycatcher, circling high in the air like a swallow. Wide rounded wings give it a more buoyant flight than most woodpeckers. In fall, Lewis's Woodpecker chops up acorns and other nuts, stores them in crevices, then guards the storage area for its winter food supply. Discovered on the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, and named for the expedition's co-leader.
Conservation status Localized and erratic in occurrence, so populations are hard to monitor. Has disappeared from many former nesting areas. There are some indications of a continuing decline in population in recent years.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Scattered or logged forest, river groves, burns, foothills. Because of aerial foraging, needs open country in summer, with large trees for nest sites and foraging perches. Often in cottonwood groves, open pine-oak woods, burned or cut-over woods. Winter habitat chosen in autumn for food supply, usually groves of oaks, sometimes date palms, orchards of pecans, walnuts, almonds, fruit.
One of our oddest woodpeckers (and not only because of its colors, which include pink, silver, and oily green). Although it climbs trees in woodpecker style, it feeds mostly by catching insects in acrobatic flight: swooping out from a perch like a flycatcher, circling high in the air like a swallow. Wide rounded wings give it a more buoyant flight than most woodpeckers. In fall, Lewis's Woodpecker chops up acorns and other nuts, stores them in crevices, then guards the storage area for its winter food supply. Discovered on the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, and named for the expedition's co-leader.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult in nest hole
Feeding Behavior

During spring and summer, forages mainly by catching insects in flight: sallying forth from a perch or circling high in air to catch flying insects, or swooping down to catch those on the ground. Also gleans some insects from tree surfaces, and takes small fruits in trees. During fall, harvests acorns or other nuts, breaks them into pieces by pounding with bill, then stores them in bark crevices or holes in trees, to feed on them during winter.


Eggs

6-7, sometimes 4-9. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with males incubating at night and part of day), 12-16 days. Young: Both parents bring back insects in bill to feed nestlings. Young leave nest 4-5 weeks after hatching, remain with parents for some time thereafter.


Young

Both parents bring back insects in bill to feed nestlings. Young leave nest 4-5 weeks after hatching, remain with parents for some time thereafter.

Diet

Mostly insects, nuts, fruits. Feeds on a wide variety of insects; also eats fruits and berries, plus acorns and other nuts.


Nesting

Pairs may mate for life, and may use the same nest site repeatedly. Displays (used in both aggression and courtship) include perching with wings spread, head lowered, neck feathers ruffed out; floating circular flight around nest tree. Nest site is cavity excavated in tree (tree or limb usually dead), sometimes in utility pole, at site apparently chosen by male. Height of nest varies, from 5' to well over 100' above ground, probably usually lower than 60'.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Some may be permanent residents, others move south and to lower elevations in winter. Quite variable from year to year; in some winters, large numbers invade lowlands of southwest. May migrate singly or in flocks.

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Migration

Some may be permanent residents, others move south and to lower elevations in winter. Quite variable from year to year; in some winters, large numbers invade lowlands of southwest. May migrate singly or in flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent, but occasionally gives a low churring note.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Picidae, Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

Lewis's Woodpecker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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