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.
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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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Lewis's Woodpecker

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Lewis's Woodpecker

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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