Skip to Content

Lewis’s Woodpecker

This woodpecker is named after the legendary Explorer Meriwether Lewis.

With the unlikely color combination of glossy greenish-black upperparts and salmon-pink underparts, the large Lewis’s Woodpecker is a striking sight. The behavior of the Lewis’s Woodpecker is unusual as well, for it often flycatches in pursuit of aerial insects.

Many cavity nesting species face stiff competition from European Starlings, which aggressively attempt to take over nest cavities. The Lewis’s Woodpecker is not a victim, but instead usually dominates starlings when confronted over ownership of a nest cavity.

(Follow the links on the left for additional information.)


Description of the Lewis’s Woodpecker


The Lewis’s Woodpecker is a large woodpecker with mostly blackish-green upperparts, a pale gray to white collar, and salmon-colored underparts.

Lewiss Woodpecker

Photograph © Greg Lavaty


The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles resemble adults, but have brownish heads and breasts.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers inhabit open country with scattered trees, including foothills and riparian areas.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers eat insects, fruits, and nuts.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers forage by flycatching for insects, gleaning insects from trees, or harvesting nuts or berries.


Lewis’s Woodpeckers are resident in parts of the western U.S., with migratory birds breeding slightly farther north than residents. The population appears to have declined in recent decades.

Related: Types of Woodpeckers in North America

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Lewis’s Woodpecker.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Female, adult, Washington, June

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Meriwether Lewis first recorded observations of Lewis’s Woodpecker in 1805 while on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The Lewis’s Woodpecker’s broad wings and slow wingbeats give it a very different flight style than other woodpeckers.


Calls include soft “churr” notes or a dry rattle.


Similar Species

  • No other woodpecker has the unusual dark greenish upperparts (which often appear black) or salmon belly.Acorn Woodpecker
    Inexperienced birders might confuse with Acorn Woodpecker at first glance.


The Lewis’s Woodpecker’s nest is in an excavated tree cavity or utility pole.

Number: Usually lay 6-7 eggs.
Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-16 days, and begin to fly in about another 4-5 weeks, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Lewis’s Woodpecker

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Lewis’s Woodpecker – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.


My first impression of this curious and interesting woodpecker was of a large, black bird that looked more like a crow than a woodpecker and that flew with the strong, steady flight of a crow or a jay, with none of the undulations common to so many woodpeckers. I made the same comment the second time I saw it, and am interested to see that the same impressions were made on many others.

It is essentially a bird of the more open country and among scattered large trees, rather than of the heavily forested regions. S. F. Rathbun writes to me of its haunts in western Washington: “In this section of the State are many tracts of land commonly known as ‘old burns.’ At one time all were forested, then later they were swept by fire and in some instances more than once; but even now, on many, still stand the scarred and blackened trunks of what formerly were large, tall trees; and it is in or about these unattractive places that this woodpecker is more apt to be found, although by no means is it restricted to them.”

Major Bendire (1895) says: “I have rarely seen Lewis’s woodpecker in deep forests; far more frequently just on the outskirts of the pines, in juniper groves on the table-lands bordering the pines, as well as in the deciduous timber along streams in the lowlands, and occasionally even in solitary cottonwoods or willows, near some little spring, in the drier sagebrush-covered fiats, miles away from the nearest forest.”

Winton and Donald Weydemeyer (1928) say that in northwestern Montana it is: a common summer resident throughout most of the Transition zone. It occurs most regularly in mixed broadleaf and conifer woods In river valleys, and in open forests of yellow pine along the foothills. It rarely ranges into the higher mountains, although we observed one Individual in a Canadian zone forest of lodgepole pine and alpine fir, at an altitude of 6,160 feet. In cut-over or burned woods, it ranges to a higher elevation than in virgin forests.

In the eastern part of the county, this woodpecker is most common around farms and slashings, and In the more open woods of fir, larch, and yellow pine. Near Libby, in the western part, it seems to prefer creek-bottom woods of aspen, spruce, and cottonwood.

Johnson A. Neff (1928) says that his “acquaintance with this exotically brilliant woodpecker began in the mountains of Colorado, and even now the thought of it calls to mind that bleak, wind-blown area at an elevation of 8,500 feet, where these birds were very much at home in the dead trunks of spruce and hemlock that had once covered the mountains with living verdure.”

Nesting: Mr. Rathbun says in his notes: “In western Washington this woodpecker nests in June. Almost invariably the excavation for its nesting place is in a dead tree, the trunk of which is more or less blackened by fire, and this may be one reason why the bird is partial to the old burns. The tree may be one of several scattered about, or, infrequently, somewhat isolated. But in any event, this woodpecker shows a liking for a good-sized tree, broken off at quite a height, the outside of which has been charred or blackened by the flames. We have found many of its nesting places, and among these was one we shall not forget. In this case, the tree was a very large one, was broken off at a height of about 175 feet, and, as usual, had its outer surface burnt. Not far below its top was the entrance to the nest of a pair of these woodpeckers. Because it was so high it could be distinctly seen only by the use of glasses, but often we had noticed one of the birds enter it or come out of it. This nesting place was used for a number of years, and when it was in use we have gone out of our way more than once just to see these woodpeckers; for the top of the tree was used as a lookout station by the pair of birds, from which at times one or both would sail into the air after a flying insect.”

Major Bendire (1895) says that: it is by no means as particular in the choice of a nesting site as the majority of our Woodpeckers. Shortly after arriving on their breeding grounds a suitablo site is selected for the nest, and not infrequently the same excavation is used for successive years. In most cases the nesting sites are excavated either in the tops of tall pines or in dry cottonwoods, and in tall rotten tree trunks, occasionally in partly decayed limbs of sycamores, oaks, and less frequently in junipers and willows. The nests, as a rule, are not easily gotten at, and quite a number are practically Inaccessible, varying in height from 6 to fully 100 feet from the ground.

** * [At Camp Harney, Oreg.] these birds nested mostly in junipcrs. * * * The junipers which are selected for nesting sites were invariably de cayed inside, and after the birds had chiseled through the live wood, which was usually only from 1 to 2 Inches thick, the remainder of the work was comparatively easy; the same site, if not disturbed, was occupied for several seasons, and in such the inner cavity was much deeper, some being fully 30 inches deep and generally about 4 inches wide at the bottom. The entrance hole varies from 2 to 2½ Inches in diameter, and when this Is made by the birds it is always perfectly circular; but occasionally a pair will take advantage of an old knot hole, if it and the cavity it leads to are not too large.

The Weydemeyers (1928) say that in northwestern Montana this species exercises a wide range of selection for nesting trees; of four nests that they record, two were in larch stubs, one in a dead cottonwood, and one in a live yellow pine; these nests were in the Transition Zone at elevations between 2,000 and 3,100 feet.

Ed. S. Currier (1928) found Lewis’s woodpeckers nesting in what he called “colonies,” near Portland, Oreg.; in each of two dead cottonwoods, less than a mile apart, he found three occupied nests all on the same day.

Eggs: Bendire (1895) says:

From five to nine eggs are laid to a set; those of six or seven are the most common, but sets of eight are not very rare; I have found several of that number, and a single set of nine.

The eggs of Lewis’s woodpecker vary greatly in shape and also in size. They are mostly ovate or short ovate in shape, but an occasional set is decidedly rounded ovate, while others are elliptical ovate; the shell is close grained and, in most cases, dull, opaque white, without any gloss whatever. Some sets, however, are moderately glossy, but scarcely as much so as the better-known eggs of the red-headed woodpecker, and none are as lustrous as the eggs of the flicker.

The measurements of 58 eggs average 26.22 by 19.99 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 30.48 by 21.34, 26.67 by 24.38, and 23.37 by 17.27 millimeters.

Young: Major Bendire (1895) says of the young:

Both sexes assist in incubation, and this lasts about two weeks. The young leave the nest about three weeks after they are hatched, and are readily tamed. I kept a couple for several days, but they had such enormous appetites that I was glad to give them their liberty, as they kept me busy providing suitable food. They were especially fond of grasshoppers, but also ate raw meat, and climbed everywhere over the rough walls of my house. A considerable share of the food of these birds is picked up off the ground, and they appear to be much more at home there than woodpeckers generally are. The young are fed on insects, and I believe also on berries; I have seen one of these birds alight in a wild strawberry patch, pick up something, evidently a strawberry, fly to a tree close by in which the nest was situated, and give it to one of the young which was clinging to the side of the tree close to the nesting site.

Plumages: The young Lewis’s woodpecker is hatched naked and blind, but the juvenal plumage is acquired before the young bird leaves the nest. lEn fresh juvenal plumage the red “face” of the adult is replaced by black or dusky, though a young bird taken on July 22 shows some red mixed with the black in this area; the bill is small and weak; the crown and occiput are dull brownish black, without any greenish luster; the silvery-gray nuchal collar of the adult is wholly lacking; the under parts are mostly dull pale gray or dull grayish white, more or less suffused on the central breast and abdomen with dull red or orange-red; the whole plumage is softer and more blended in texture. Dr. J. A. Allen (Scott, 1886) says of some young birds that he examined: “The back and upper surface of the wings are bronzy green nearly as in the adult, with, however, in addition, broad bars of steel-blue on the scapulars and quills. These bars are especially prominent on the secondaries and inner vanes of the primaries, and are seen also in some specimens on the rectrices. The steel-blue edging the outer vanes of the quill feathers in the adult is absent; and the inner secondaries and longest primaries are tipped more or less prominently with white.”

This juvenal plumage is worn through the summer and into September, when the molt into the first winter plumage begins with a sprinkling of the silvery, bristly feathers appearing on the breast and in the collar, with the increase of red in the “face,” and with metallic-green feathers showing on the head. This molt is apparently prolonged and is not finished until early in winter, when young birds and adults are practically alike. Adults have a complete annual molt late in summer and fall; I have observed it as late as October 12.

Food: Referring to the food of Lewis’s woodpecker, Major Bendire (1895) writes:

In summer its food consists mainly of insects of different kinds, such as grasshoppers, large black crickets, ants, beetles, flies, larva of different kinds, as well as of berries, like wild strawberries and raspberries, service berries and salmon berries, acorns, pine seeds, and juniper berries, while In cultivated districts cherries and other small fruits enter into its daily bill of fare. Here, when common, it may occasionally do some little damage in the orchards, hut this Is fully c6mpensated by the noxious insects it destroys at the same time. In localities where grasshoppers are abundant they live on these pests almost exclusively while they last. Mr. Shelly W. Denton tells me he noticed this Woodpecker gathering numbers of May flies (Eplmcamcra) and sticking them in crevices of pines, generally in trees In which it nested, evidently putting them away for future use, as they lasted bitt a few days. It is an expert flycatcher, and has an extremely keen vision, sallying forth frequently after some small insect when this is perhaps fully 100 feet from its perch.

On this latter subject, Mr. Rathbun writes to me:

Lewis’s woodpecker is an expert at catching Insects on the wing. When In this act, Its perch Is some vantage spot such as the top of a dead tree or a bare limb in the open. Here it sits motionless, except to turn its head from side to side on the lookout for its prey; and when this is seen, the bird glides from its resting place to make a capture. On one occasion for more than an hour, we watched a pair of these woodpeckers seize flying insects, and In that length of time not less than 35 wore taken. Through our field glasses we kept a close watch on the birds and soon learned from their actions when an insect was sighted, thus it was easy for us to anticipate its capture, and In not a single Instance was a failure made by either of the birds. Once, a light puff of air changed the course of the insect just at the time it was about to be taken, but the woodpecker made a quick turn upward at the same time, dropped its legs straight down, and neatly made the take. When busy catching insects on the wing, this bird leaves its perch by easy wing beats or a long, slow, graceful glide; then, after its prey is caught, rises in its flight and, quickly wheeling, returns to its lookout station.

But, as if not content with hunting insects after the manner of a flycatcher, sometimes this bird mingles with the swallows as they hawk over the ground. On one occasion in summer, as we came to a very open pasture, we noticed numbers of barn and cliff swallows in flight over it after insects, and in company with them was a pair of Lewis’s woodpeckers. Back and forth over I he meadow flew these dark birds, busy in an attempt to catch flying insects, and their actions as they flew were in marked contrast to those of the graceful swallows. Although we watched the woodpeckers for more than half an hour, throughout that time neither one alighted; and when we left the place both still coursed busily above the field.

About one-third of the food of Lewis’s woodpecker consists of acorns. It shares with the California woodpecker the interesting habit of storing acorns, though its method of storing them is quite different, for it seldom, if ever, makes the neat round holes to fit the acorns, so characteristic of the other species; and its stores of acorns are never so extensive, so systematic, or so conspicuous as those of the California woodpecker. Charles W. Michael (1926) writes:

Recently we watched a Lewis Woodpecker making trips back and forth between a Kellogg oak and his home tree, a cottonwood. He was busy storing away his winter supply of acorns. Occasionally he picked a fallen acorn from the ground; more often he flew into the lesser branches of the oak, and hanging like a great black chickadee he plucked the acorn from the cup. With crow-like fiappings, his broad wings carried him back to the dead cottonwood with his prize In his bill. Alighting somewhat below the summit of his tree he would, by a series of flight jumps, come to a certain shattered stub where a fissure formed a vise. Into this he would wedge the acorn.

With the acorn held firmly In place he would set about cutting away the hull, and strong strokes of his bill would soon split away the shell and expose the kernel. But he was not satisfied in merely making the kernel accessible, he must go on with his pounding until he had broken It into several pieces, and then with a piece in his bill he would dive into the air like a gymnast, drop twenty or thirty feet and come with an upward swoop to perch on the trunk of the same tree. A few hitching movements would bring him to a deep crack that opened Into the heart of the tree. Here he would carefully poke away, for future reference, his morsel. Usually the acorn was cut into four parts, involving four such trips, and on the last trip to the vise he would take the empty hull In his bill, and with a jerk of his head, toss it into the air. An examination of the ground beneath the tree disclosed hundreds of empty acorn shells. Holding a watch on the Lewis Woodpecker, we found that he made five trips In five minutes and stored five acorns.

J. Eugene Law (1929) has published another illuminating paper on this subject, which is well worth reading; he describes in considerable detail the woodpeckers’ methods in storing the meats of acorns in cracks in poles and indulges in some speculation as to the causes and purposes involved in the habit.

Herbert Brown (1902) found Lewis’s woodpeckers quite destructive to pomegranates and quinces, near Tucson, Ariz. On September 30 he counted ten in the pomegranate groves; “they were mostly feeding on pomegranate fruit. They first cut a hole through the hard skin of the fruit and then extract the pulp, leaving nothing but an empty shell.” Later, on October 13, he says: “Now that the pomegranate crop has been destroyed they have commenced to eat the quinces, of which there are large quantities. On the tops of some of the bushes I noticed that every quince had been eaten into, one side -of the fruit being generally eaten away.~~ William E. Sherwood (1927) writes:

On June 16, 1923, while collecting near Imnaha, Wallowa County, Oregon. I frightened a Lewis woodpecker from the top of a fence post where it was evidently having a feast. On top of the post it had left a fresh egg, probably its own; for it was absolutely fresh, of the right size, and unmarked. The shell had been broken into, but the contents not yet extracted.

In a knothole on the side of the post was an eggshell (of the same kind), and a snail shell which had been broken into. Wedged into the cracks of the post were several insects (some of them still alive) of the two species commonly known as “salmon flies” and “trout flies.” On the ground at the foot of the post were several snail shells, a green prune (picked into), and several cherry seeds with stems attached.

Johnson A. Neff (1928) has much to say about the economic status of this woodpecker, mainly in Oregon. A few quotations from his~ paper will serve to show the vast amount of damage to the fruit grower that it does in sections where it is abundant, mainly in sum-. mer and fall. He says that Prof. Beal (1911) “mentions one case in Washington wherein the birds tore the paper at the corners of packed boxes of apples left in the orchard over night, picking into every apple within reach, and necessitating the repacking of every box attacked.”

S. D. Hill wrote to Mr. Neff:

In some sections and seasons they will destroy carloads of fruit, especially in orchards near timber. I have known them to do 50 percent damage to a pear crop in the Peyton district on upper Rogue River.” Jackson Gyger, Ashland, wrote: “Ia 1924 the loss on Spitz and Delicious apples was about 75 percent, on Newtowns about 15 percent; Bosc and Anion pears about 10 percent. The loss on trees near oak timber was nearly 100 percent. This season (1925) due to hunting them every day the loss was possibly 50 percent less. I bought $18.00 worth of ammunition to combat them this year. One man can not keep them out of a seven acre orchard, as they ~vill work on one end while you are scaring them out of the other.

Mr. Neff goes on to say:

These complaints can not he over-looked, for stomach analyses show only the volume of fruit eaten, not the percentage of fruit damaged per tree, nor the real loss to the orebardist. * * *

In Oregon, although it sometimes becomes a nuisance in the small fruit plantings of various areas, it centers its destructive activities in the Rogue Valley; there it flocks in the greatest abundance. * * *

In this area there can be no question of the objectionable status of the Lewis woodpecker. If the birds would consume each fruit injured, there would be little complaint of their taking the quantity which probably would satisfy them. They are restless and energetic, however, and always attacking fresh frait, which with one stroke of the bill is ruined for commercial use. If one allows only one bite to each fruit, some of the stomachs studied would have contained the samples of as high as two bushels of fruit In the restricted areas mentioned the Lewis woodpecker is a pest

Behavior: Lewis’s woodpecker seldom indulges in the undulating flight so common to other woodpeckers, though it sometimes swings in a long curve in a short flight from tree to tree. Its ordinary traveling flight is quite unlike the flight of other members of the family; it is strong, direct, and rather slow, with steady strokes of its long, broad wings. At first glance one would hardly recognize it as a woodpecker, for its flight and its appearance are more suggestive of a crow, a Clarke’s nutcracker, or a jay. But it is far from clumsy in the air, and its skill in catching insects on the wing demonstrates its mastery of the air in flight. It also indulges in some rather remarkable aerial evolutions, which one would hardly expect from a member of the woodpecker family. On this subject, Robert Ridgway (1877) writes:

In Its general habits and manners this beautiful species resembles quite closely the eastern Red-headed Woodpecker (M. erythroccpholas), being quite as lively and of an equally playful disposition. Some of its actions, however, are very curious, the most remarkable of them being a certain elevated flight, performed in a peculiar floating manner, its progress apparently laborious, as if struggling against the wind, or uncertain, like a bird which had lost its course and become confused. At such a time it presents the appearance of a Crow high in the air, while the manner of its flight is strikingly similar to that of Clarke’s Nutcracker (Picicorvus colurnbienas). * * * After performing these evolutions to its satisfaction, it descends in gradually contracting circles, often to the tree from which it started.

Herbert Brown (1902) evidently saw a similar flight, of which he says: “In flight they have little or none of that laborious undulating movement so common to its kind, but in action and flight they seem possessed of peculiarities supposed to belong to birds of a totally different family. Today not less than fifty of them were circling through the air, at an elevation of about 500 feet, with all the ease and grace of the Falconidac. Not a stroke of the wing was apparent. * * * Those high in the air were sailing in great circles. They kept it up indefinitely and had the appearance of being so many miniature crows. When sailing they appear to open their wings to the fullest extent possible.”

Mr. Neff (1928) states that “these birds love the hottest sunshine, and are commonly found perched in the tiptop of some tall partlydead tree, whence they can scan the air foi~ insect food. They rarely sit vertically upright on a branch as do most other woodpeckers, but perch cross-wise with ease. They seldom climb up the trunk or branches, although perfectly capable of doing so, and are rarely heard tapping.” They perch occasionally on wires, an uncommon habit with other woodpeckers.

Major Bendire (1895) observes: “On its breeding grounds Lewis’s woodpecker appears to be a stupid and rather sluggish bird; it does not show nearly as much parental affection as most of the other members of this family, and is much less demonstrative. It is not at all shy at such times, and will often cling to some convenient limb on the same tree while its eggs are being taken, without making the least complaint.”

Voice: Bendire (1895) says: “It is by far the most silent woodpecker I have met, and, aside from a low twittering, it rarely utters a loud note. Even when suddenly alarmed, and when it seeks safety in flight, the shrill ‘huit, huit’ given on such occasions by nearly nil of our woodpeckers is seldom uttered by it. Only when moving about in flocks, on their first arrival in the spring and during the mating season, which follows shortly afterwards, does it indulge in a few rattling call notes, resembling those of the Red-shafted Flicker, and it drums more or less, in a lazy sort of way, on the dead top of a tall pine, or a suitable limb of a cottonwood or willow.”

Ralph Iloffmann (1927) writes: “For a great part of the year the Lewis woodpecker is a silent bird, uttering not even a call note, but in the mating season it utters a harsh chirr and a high-pitched squalling chee-up, repeated at rather long intervals. Adult birds utter near the nest a series of sharp metallic cries like the syllable ick, ick, ick, which when rapidly repeated become a rattle. The young in the nest utter the usual hissing sound of young woodpeckers.”

Field marks: Lewis’s woodpecker should be easily recognized. At a distance it appears likes a black bird, the back and the upper and lower surfaces of the wings being black, with no conspicuous white showing anywhere, and with a crowlike flight, broad wings and black tail. At short range, the greenish sheen of the back may glisten in the sunlight, and the silvery gray collar and pinkish underparts may be seen, as well as the gray upper breast and perhaps the red face.

Fall: This woodpecker seems to be a highly migratory species. From the northern parts of its range it disappears almost entirely during winter; and throughout its entire range it is given to extensive wanderings, being very abundant in certain localities during fall and winter in certain seasons and at other seasons entirely absent. The species is highly gregarious in fall, wandering about in large flocks in search for suitable food supplies.

Mr. Rathbun tells me that this woodpepker is found in Washington from April to about November and occasionally is seen in winter, and says: “In this part [western] of the State the fall migration of this bird seems to begin early in September. Once, very early in the month, on our arrival at a lake not far from Seattle, we noticed a large number of these woodpeckers in three or four deciduous trees along the shore. Occasionally, a few of the birds would make short flights after insects in the air, but by far the larger number were more or less inactive and appeared to be resting, as some remained motionless where perched. And when one did change its position, it did this in a listless manner. Our arrival at the lake was rather late in the afternoon, and from the actions of the birds as a whole we gained the impression that they must have made quite an extended flight that day on their movement southward. On several other occasions in September we have seen this woodpecker as it was migrating. In each case a good many were in company, though rather loosely associated. And once, moving in a southerly direction with them for a very brief time, were numbers of nighthawks, swallows, and Vaux’s swifts flying around for insects.”

Mr. Neff (1928) writes:

This species, more than all its kin, moves in flocks in autumn. After the nesting season it gathers Into flocks of from 10 to 300 or more. In such numbers It drops down into the fruit districts of southern Oregon and of northern California, and disaster results. * * ï On August 29, the writer, accompanied by Mr. Richardson, made a trip to Lake of the Woods, Kiamath County. Just south of Ashland a few scattered individuals were seen. As the Cascade summit was approached many were seen in the open fields and meadows. In the flats near the lake, and In the open meadows near Rainbow Creek, numbers were found feeding on the mountain huckleberries. Returning to Ashland on September 1, huge flocks of these birds could be seen moving steadily toward the lower Valley. ~ * *

On September 7, also, the growers in the vicinity of Mefiford reported the arrival of the first birds there. Flocks were present until September 19, when almost every bird in the area disappeared. A few scattering individuals were left in various foothill areas, but these left during November. The areas in which they wintered so abundantly during the 1924: 5 season were totally deserted during the 1925: 6 season, and not until spring did they return to this area.

Herbert Brown (1902) states that Lewis’s woodpeckers appeared in large numbers, during the fall of 1884, in the Santa Cruz Valley, Ariz., the first he had seen there for 20 years. He saw the first one on September 28 and ten on the 30th. They were very abundant at times during October but disappeared at intervals. They were last seen on November 16.

Winter: W. E. D. Scott (1886) says of its winter habits in Arizona:

About my house it generally appeared about the 20th of September, and some years was very abundant. It stays as late as April 20, and then Is not seen again till fall, though I have seen the species in the pine region above me late in the spring. In 1884, there was an unprecedented abundance of the species throughout the entire region under consideration. They came in countless numbers about the ranches, both on the San Pedro and near Tucson. Arriving early in September, they did great injury to the fruit crops raised in these regions, and I heard much complaint of them. In the oak woods they were equally abundant, living almost altogether on acorns, but spending much of the warmer portion of the day catching insects on the wing, very much as any of the larger flycatchers do, only that on leaving the perch of observation or rest, the flight Is much more prolonged than in the flycatchers that I have seen.

Lewis’s woodpeckers sometimes remain in winter, in small numbers, as far north as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. According to Suckley and Cooper (1860), they are “constant winter residents” near Fort Dalles on the Columbia River. Of their winter habits, Suckley writes:

They seem in winter to be semi-gregarious, flying singly, yet still keeping more or less in each other’s company. Their flight at this season is high and very erratic, resembling much, in its characteristic peculiarities, that of the swallow. On warm days they keep up a lively chattering noise, unlike, In character, that of any other woodpecker that I have heard. During the cold season they are so shy that it is difficult to shoot them, as at the least alarm they betake themselves to the tops of the highest trees in the vicinity. They at that season subsist principally upon the larvae of insects, found in the cracks and fissures of thc ‘red pine” of the country. I dissected a specimen killed at Fort Dalles, January 9, 1855, finding the coats of the stomach (gizzard) very thick and muscular, its cavity filled with the white larvae of insects, togethcr with fine gravel.

Range: Western United States, southwestern Canada, and northwestern Mexico; migratory in the northern areas.

Breeding range: Lewis’s woodpecker breeds north to southern British Columbia (Courtenay, Okanagan Landing, and Arrow Lake); Montana (Fortine, Flathead Lake, and Great Falls); and southwestern South Dakota (Elk Mountains). East to southwestern South Dakota (Elk Mountains); southeastern Wyoming (Laramie hills and Laramie); eastern Colorado (Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, Boone, and Rouse Junction); and New Mexico (Bojuaque and Sacramento Mountain). South to southern New Mexico (Sacramento Mountain); Arizona (San Francisco Mountain and Fort Whipple); and southern California (Paso Robles). West through the coast ranges of- California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia (Victoria, Comox, and Courtenay).

Winter range: On the Pacific coast the species is resident north to the Columbia River (Portland and The Dalles, Greg.) and is found south at this season to northern Baj a California (Catavina and Guadalupe Valley). During two different winters these woodpeckers were recorded wintering in southern British Columbia (Alowna in 1920: 21, Vernon in 1928: 29, and Summerland 1928: 29).

In the Rocky Mountain region it winters north to north-central Colorado (Boulder and Denver) and is found south to central Texas (San Angelo); southern New Mexico (Guadalupe Mountains); and northern Sonora (5 miles southwest of Nogales, Ariz.).

Spring migration: At neither season is the migratory movement extensive, but the following early dates of arrival in the northern parts of the breeding range may be considered typical: Wyoming: Wheatland, April 15; Laramie, May 5; Yellowstone Park, May 14. Montaua: Fortine, April 27; Big Hole River, May 1; Corvallis, May 6. Washington: Grand Dalles, April 23; Prescott, April 26; Tacoma, April 27. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, April 20; Arrow Lakes, April 28; Sumas, May 3.

Fall migration: The following are late dates of departure in autumn: British Columbia: Arrow Lakes, October 16; Kelowna, October 23; William Head, November 23. Washington: Prescott, September 18; North Dalles, October 10; Yakima, October 29. Montana: Columbia Falls, September 9; Missoula, September 17; Gold Creek, September 21. Wyoming: Laramie, September 24; Careyhurst, September 26; Wheatland, October 4.

Casual records: Lewis’s woodpecker has been taken on several occasions at points east of its normal range. Among these records are Alberta, Castor, May 7 and 9,1924; Big Hay Lake, October 12, 1930; and Lesser Slave Lake, May 22, 1928; Saskatchewan, one specimen at Herschel on September 23, 1914, three in the Qu’Appelle Valley, one from near Eastend on September 19, 1915, two in the same vicinity on September 24, 1929, and two in the summer of 1931; North Dakota, a specimen was taken at Neche, on October 13, 1910, and one was noted at Grafton on October 10, 1920; Nebraska, recorded at Long Pine during the winter of 1898: 99; Kansas, a specimen at Ellis on May 6, 1878, and another near Lawrence on November 7, 1908; eastern Oklahoma, one was carefully observed near Tulsa on December 24, 1922; Iowa, recorded at Sioux City from November 28, 1928, to April 7, 1929; Illinois, one recorded from Chicago on May 24, 1923, and another from Argo on May 14, 1932; and Rhode Island, a specimen collected at Mount Pleasant, near Providence, on November 16, 1928.

Egg dates: California: 19 records, April 18 to June 10; 10 records, May 3 to 28, indicating the height of the season.

Colorado: 30 records, May 8 to August 6; 15 records, June 2 to 20.

Oregon: 18 records, May 17 to June 24; 9 records, May 30 to June 10.

British Columbia: 6 records, May 31 to June 15.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook