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Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)

Breeding: From interior southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta south to Lewis's Woodpecker range mapArizona and New Mexico, and from coastal California east to Colorado. Virtually the entire Canadian population occurs in British Columbia.

Lewis's Woodpecker by James Coe from his upcoming Guide to Western Birds


Winter: Interior southern British Columbia (casually) south through the western states to northern Mexico, but mainly in the southwestern United States.

Breeding habitat

Three principal habitats are open ponderosa pine forest, open riparian woodland dominated by cottonwood, and logged or burned pine forest; however breeding birds are also found in oak woodland, nut and fruit orchards, pinyon pine-juniper woodland, a variety of pine and fir forests, and agricultural areas including farm and ranchland. Important aspects of breeding habitat include an open canopy, a brushy understory offering ground cover and abundant insects, dead or downed woody material, available perches, and abundant insects.

Conservation status

This Lewis’ Woodpecker is of high conservation importance, because of its relatively small and patchy distribution, low overall density, and association with mature montane and riparian forests. This species is poorly monitored in many parts of its range, but exhibits a significant long-term decline overall. Populations may have declined by as much as 50 % since 1966. Associations with various forest types, sensitivity to fragmentation and silvicultural practices are poorly known and will be important to understand for sustaining healthy populations.


Male: Upperparts consist of greenish-black head, back, wings and tail, and a light gray collar. Face, chin, and cheeks are red, breast light gray, belly pinkish.

Female: Same as adult male.

Juvenile: Head, face, breast brown, body greenish-black; lacks red face and the light gray collar.


Drum: Drum short, weak, and at medium speed followed by several individual taps.

Calls: A series of short, harsh chr notes. The "contact call" is a weak, sneezy teef or kitsif; also a high, squeaky, descending rik rik rik . Dry, rattling chase series reminiscent of European Starling.

Foraging strategy

Starts at base of tree or near trunk and works up or out to smaller branches. Gleans, similar to other woodpeckers, but seldom if ever excavates for wood-boring insects. Catches insects by gleaning and flycatching; does not dig in soil when foraging on ground.


Varies with seasonal abundance of food items; primarily free-living (not wood-boring) insects older than larval stage, principally ants, bees, and wasps, beetles, and grasshoppers; acorns or other nuts, and fruit.

Behavior and displays

  • Detailed quantitative studies of motions are lacking, although climbs up poles, trees, and branches with head up and tail down in the same way as other woodpecker species; also hops laterally along thin branches.
  • Flight differs markedly from other North American woodpeckers: in addition to direct flights between foraging or perching locations, foraging flights include short duration hawking with little gliding; longer duration hawking with prolonged gliding; and nonspecific foraging of much longer duration, including prolonged periods of continuous flapping and gliding.
  • Aggressively defends winter stores of acorns and other nuts. Territoriality can be intra- and interspecific, and can occur in summer in defense of area in vicinity of nest cavity as well as in late fall and winter in defense of acorn or nut stores.
  • "Bill-up" display is given to intruders; "wing-out" display is given to intruders and to mate; "circle flight" display is given to intruders and to mate.


  • Sounds and displays used for courtship include "chatter call," "churr call," "drumming," "wing-out" display, and "circle flight" display; some of these behaviors are also used during territorial encounters.


Nest site: Nest cavities excavated in trunk or large branches of large, dead or decaying trees, including burned trees, often just below a limb or large knot. Tree species used include cottonwood, ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, white fir, lodgepole pine, juniper, willow, and paper birch. Nest sites are associated with presence of abundant insects, open-canopy forest or tree clusters, standing dead trees, and dense ground cover in the form of downed material, grasses, and shrubs.

Height: 22-65 feet (7-20 meters), varies by region.

Nest: Cavity excavated by both sexes, in trunk or large branch of tree if new nest, but often reuses old nest holes or natural cavities in tree; bed of chips approximately 3 inches (8 cm) deep at bottom of nest.

Eggs: 5-9, usually 6-7, opaque white eggs.

Incubation period: 12-16 days, adults alternate incubating during the day. Male incubates at night.

Nestling period: Both adults contribute equally in diurnal care (feeding, brooding, and attentiveness), but male broods at night and removes more fecal sacs from nest than female does. Young leave nest between 28-34 days.

Fledgling period: Juveniles remain near nest site for at least 10 days, begging for and receiving food from adults. Young follow adults and give begging calls when adults approach with food. After leaving nest hole, young immediately climb around nest tree, poking bill into cracks and crevices. Potentially heavy predation by American Kestrel exists for recently fledged juveniles.

Broods: Single brooded.

Cowbird Parasitism: Not known to occur.

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