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Lewis's Woodpecker
Melanerpes lewis

Lewis's Woodpecker
Lewis's Woodpecker

    Land Tenure - Lewis's Woodpecker Habitat
  • Length: 22 cm; Wingspan: 45 cm.
  • Greenish-black back, pink belly, grey collar and red face.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

Loss of large nesting and roosting trees in ponderosa pine forests and cottonwood bottomlands, seems to be the main threat to the population of Lewis's Woodpeckers in British Columbia. An increased awareness of the importance of maintaining brush and undergrowth to support insect populations is required. This undergrowth also provides berries and seeds which are a vital source of food for this woodpecker. The continued survival of this woodpecker would be assisted by protecting their important habitats, particularly nest sites.


  • Lewis's Woodpeckers are locally distributed in drier parts of the Southern Interior of British Columbia from the Chilcotin River to the East Kootenays; centre of abundance is the Okanagan Valley.
  • Formerly found on the south coast of British Columbia when large, low elevation clearcuts provided suitable habitat, but abandoned that part of the range as new forests grew up and urban expansion replaced other open woodlands.
  • Primarily a migratory species, but a few individuals stay in Okanagan Valley in winter
  • Ranges up to 1150 metres elevation; breeds from up to 950 metres.


  • Open ponderosa pine forests and old cottonwood stands in riparian areas are the Lewis's Woodpecker's major breeding habitat, although they also nest in burned-over stands of Douglas-fir, mixed conifer, deciduous woodlands, grassland with scattered decaying trees, and suburban areas with large trees.
  • Nest in tree cavities excavating new nest cavities, but will often use abandoned holes and natural openings in living and dead trees. Ponderosa pine and black cottonwood are preferred nest trees.


  • Lewis's Woodpecker pair bond may be life-long.
  • Lay 4 to 6 eggs in May or June; eggs hatch about 2 weeks later.
  • Eggs incubated by both parents except at night, when male sits on eggs while female sleeps in another cavity.
  • Young leave the nest 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.

Food Habits

  • Summer diet is mainly flying insects caught during long, circling flights.
  • Fruits, berries and nuts (especially acorns) are important foods in late summer, fall and winter.
  • Overwintering birds store nuts in cracks in dead snags and power poles.

Ineresting Facts

  • This species' habit of catching insects during long flights, much as swallows and nighthawks do, is very unusual in the woodpecker family.
  • Named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition.


  • Felling of large, standing decaying trees (snags); these are potential nesting and perching sites.
  • Loss of habitat, especially open ponderosa pine woodlands and riparian forests.
  • Netting around vineyards could be a serious source of mortality in late summer.
  • Use of insecticides in orchards and gardens may reduce insect population.
  • Competition with European Starlings for nest sites may be a problem, but this species seems to stand up to the aggressive starlings more than most other birds.

Management Considerations

  • Preserve and maintain ponderosa pine forests and black cottonwood stands.
  • Protect known nest sites.
  • Maintain dead or dying standing trees, especially soft, large diameter snags.
  • Monitor and reduce the use of pesticides.


1. Campbell, R.W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 2. Royal British Columbia Museum,Victoria, BC.
2. Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster, New York.
3. Cannings, R.A., R.J. Cannings and S.G. Cannings. 1987. Birds of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, B.C.


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