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Lewis's Woodpecker Life History


Open Woodlands

Lewis's Woodpeckers frequently breed in open ponderosa pine forests and burned forests with a high density of standing dead trees (snags). They also breed in woodlands near streams, oak woodlands, orchards, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. During the nonbreeding season, they move about in nomadic fashion stopping off in cottonwoods near streams, orchards, and oak woodlands with plentiful resources.

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Lewis's Woodpeckers eat insects, nuts, and fruits. Unlike other woodpeckers they tend to eat flying insects that they take in midair or pick from a branch or tree trunk, rather than probing for wood-boring insects. They store acorns, other nuts, and grains in the crevices of cottonwood trees in the fall and winter.

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Nest Placement


Lewis's Woodpeckers nest mainly in holes and crevices created by other woodpeckers or created naturally in dead and decaying trees (snags). They nest in cottonwood, ponderosa pine, paper birch, white pine, and other trees that are starting to decay. On occasion they nest in live trees.

Nest Description

The nest is a cavity or hole most often in a dead or decaying tree. They use existing holes or crevices, rarely excavating their own, but they often enlarge or remodel existing cavities. They line the bottom of the cavity with wood chips.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:5-9 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.9-1.2 in (2.3-3 cm)
Egg Width:0.7-0.9 in (1.7-2.4 cm)
Incubation Period:12-16 days
Nestling Period:28-34 days
Egg Description:

Opaque white.

Condition at Hatching:

Naked (not downy) with eyes closed.

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Aerial Forager

Lewis's Woodpeckers hitch up trees in typical woodpecker fashion, but they also perch perpendicularly on branches and on top of wires and posts, something other woodpeckers don't often do. They fly out from these perches to catch insects in midair on long forays in flycatcher fashion. In fall and winter, their diet shifts to include more acorns and other nuts, which they store in the furrows and crevices of trees. Lewis's Woodpeckers are protective of their winter stores of acorns and nuts. If an intruder enters into their winter stores or breeding territory they might chatter, throw their bill up, lift their wings above their body to expose the pink belly feathers, fluff up their neck feathers, or circle the nest tree with wings held up in a prolonged glide. They are particularly aggressive toward Acorn and Red-headed Woodpeckers that try to steal their caches. Courting males also call, lift their wings up, and circle around a nest tree to attract a female. Following breeding, some form small groups and wander nomadically in search of nuts and fruits. Others stay put year-round or move to lower elevations.

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Lewis's Woodpeckers are uncommon, and their populations declined by approximately 1.2% annually resulting in a cumulative decline of about 48% between 1968 and 2019, according to North American Breeding Bird Survey. Due to their declining population, Partners in Flight rates them 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, placing them on the Yellow Watch List for birds most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. The current estimated global breeding population according to Partners in Flight is 82,000 individuals. Lewis's Woodpeckers are threatened by changing forest conditions as a result of fire suppression, grazing, and logging, which often result in higher densities of single age pines and fewer standing dead or decaying trees available for nesting.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Vierling, Kerri T., Victoria A. Saab and Bret W. Tobalske. (2013). Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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