- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2012. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.7. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/downloadable-clements-checklist
Melanerpes lewis is found in California, north to western Washington to northwestern Montana and the mountains of Colorado. They have been seen as far south as the southern Counties of California, although they are uncommon there. They are most common in the southeastern San Joaquin County,Ca., north to Southern Oregon, and along the coastal ranges from northern Tehoma County to Southern San Luis Oispo County, Ca. There have also been sightings in Utah, British Columbia, Texas, and Mexico.(Bent 1964, Winkler et al.1995)
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: southern British Columbia, southwestern Alberta, Montana, southwestern South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska south to south-central California, central Arizona, southern New Mexico, and eastern Colorado; locally distributed and sporadic within range (AOU 1983, Tobalske 1997). NON-BREEDING: mainly from northern Oregon, southern Idaho, central Colorado, south-central Nebraska south irregularly to northern Mexico, southern New Mexico, and western Texas (AOU 1983).
Adult Lewis's Woodpeckers have a medium sized head, short neck, and large body. The bill and feet are dusky blue-gray. The back of this species is black, glossed with green, and the belly is rose red. There is a deep red band which runs across the forehead and throat, extending behind and below the eye. The throat and wings are black with a band of dull white over the hind neck extending forward and around the breast. The adult female resembles the male, although she is slightly duller in color with less red on the front of the head.
Like most woodpeckers, the Lewis's Woodpecker has four toes, the first of which is small, the fourth is longer than the third, and the second and third are together at the base. They have large claws which are curved and laterally grooved.
The wings are long spanning to 21 inches. The tail is of medium length and very strong. It has ten feathers that are pointed and stiff. The outside feathers are shorter than the center ones.
(Bent 1964, Small 1994)
Average mass: 115 g.
Length: 27 cm
Weight: 116 grams
Habitat and Ecology
Lewis's Woodpeckers prefer logged or burned out areas. They prefer old growth woodlands rather than dense forest. In Montana they nest in the transition zone between 2,000 and 3,100 feet elevation. In winter they choose oak woodland or commerical orchards such as almond and walnut and pecan trees. (Bent 1964, Winkler et al. 1995)
Terrestrial Biomes: forest
Comments: BREEDING: Open forest and woodland, often logged or burned, including oak, coniferous forest (primarily ponderosa pine [Pinus ponderosa], riparian woodland and orchards, less commonly in pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.; AOU 1983). Distribution closely associated with open ponderosa pine forest in western North America, and is strongly associated with fire-maintained old-growth ponderosa pine (Diem and Zeveloff 1980, Tobalske 1997, Saab and Dudley 1998).
Important habitat features include an open tree canopy, a brushy understory with ground cover, dead trees for nest cavities; dead or downed woody debris, perch sites, and abundant insects. Uses open ponderosa pine forests, open riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwood (POPULUS spp.), and logged or burned pine. Also uses oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands, orchards, pinyon-juniper woodlands, other open coniferous forests, and agricultural lands. Apparently prefers open ponderosa pine at high elevations and open riparian forests at lower elevations (Bock 1970, Tobalske 1997). In Blue Mountains, Oregon, showed a preference for open stands near water (Thomas et al. 1979). Because catches insects from air, perches near openings or in open canopy are important for foraging habitat (Bock 1970, Tobalske 1997).
Often use burned pine forests, although suitability of postfire habitats varies with the age, size, and intensity of the burn, density of remaining snags, and the geographic region. Birds may move to unburned stands once young fledge (Block and Brennan 1987, Tobalske 1997, Saab and Dudley 1998). Have been generally considered a species of older burns rather than new ones, moving in several years post-fire once dead trees begin to fall and brush develops, five to thirty years after fire (Bock 1970, Block and Brennan 1987, Caton 1996, Linder and Anderson 1998). However, on a two- to four-year-old burn in Idaho it was the most common cavity-nester, and occurred in highest nesting densities ever recorded for the species (Saab and Dudley 1998). As habitat suitability declines, however, numbers decline. For example, in Wyoming, was more common in a seven-year-old burn than in a twenty-year-old burn (Linder and Anderson 1998). Overall, suitable conditions include an open canopy, availability of nest cavities and perches, abundant arthropod prey, and a shrubby understory (Linder and Anderson 1998, Saab and Dudley 1998).
NESTING: Unlike other woodpeckers, is not morphologically well-adapted to excavate cavities in hard wood. Tends to nest in a natural cavity, abandoned northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) hole, or previously used cavity, 1-52 meters above ground. Sometimes will excavate a new cavity in a soft snag (standing dead tree), dead branch of a living tree, or rotting utility pole (Harrison 1979, Tobalske 1997). Mated pair may return to the same nest site in successive years. On partially-logged burns with high nesting densities in Idaho, nest sites were characterized by the presence of large, soft snags and an average of 62 snags per hectare that had more than 23 centimeter dbh (Saab and Dudley 1998).
NON-BREEDING: In late summer, wandering flocks move from valleys into mountains or from breeding habitat to orchards. In winter, uses oak woodlands, nut and fruit orchards. An important habitat feature in many wintering areas is the availability of storage sites for grains or mast, such as tree bark (e.g. bark of mature cottonwood trees) or power poles with dessication cracks (Bock 1970, Tobalske 1997). In southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, may use scrub oak, pecan orchards, and cottonwoods, but more study is needed in this area (Bock 1970). In Mexico, uses open and semi-open woodlands, especially those with oaks (Howell and Webb 1995).
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Populations in the northern half of the breeding range move southward for winter; present year-round in rest of breeding range although some birds migrate out. Movements likely vary in magnitude from year to year, probably in relation to food availability. Nomadic flocks have been observed in fall and winter (Tobalske 1997; see also Hadow 1973).
The Lewis's Woodpecker is known to have a hoarding instinct. About one-third of its diet consists of acorns, which it stores in cracks and bark furrows. In addition to acorns, the Lewis's Woodpecker eats insects of different kinds, including ants, crickets, grasshoppers, etc. This bird has been seen catching may flies and hoarding them by putting them in crevices of pine trees, mostly in the trees where they nested. It has been noted that they are excellent flycatchers and have extremely fine vision, catching insects which were about 100 feet from where the bird was perched. It also eats wild berries of varying varieties, in addition to pine nuts, juniper berries, cherries, and apricots. (Bent 1964, Eckstrom 1901)
Comments: Feeds on adult emergent insects (e.g., ants, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, tent caterpillars, mayflies) in summer, ripe fruit and nuts in fall and winter. Opportunistic and may respond to insect outbreaks and grasshopper swarms by increasing breeding densities. Unlike other woodpeckers, does not bore for insects but will flycatch and glean insects from tree branches or trunks; also drops from perch to capture insects on the ground. Especially favors acorns and commercial nuts and fruit in fall and winter, and caches food in natural crevices such as tree bark and dessication cracks in utility poles, tailoring food to fit crevices. Also eats huckleberry, twinberry, currant, mountain ash and chokecherries (Bock 1970, Tobalske 1997). In some areas, wintering birds rely more on insects than on cached food (Hadow 1973).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: Actual number of element occurences is unknown.
Comments: No estimates of total population size (Tobalske 1997).
May compete with acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) for acorn crop (Terres 1980). Will aggressively defend food caches from all comers. Territorial in immediate space around nest sites toward Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) and other Lewis's Woodpeckers; however, may nest semi-gregariously where several nest cavities are close together (Bock 1970, Bock et al. 1971, Tobalske 1997). Breeding season territories reported to vary between 1 and 6 hectares in the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon (Thomas et al. 1979). Foraging home ranges broadly overlap and large numbers of birds may forage together where there is a local abundance of food (Tobalske 1997). Local areas of higher abundance occur in northern Arizona, Washington, Oregon and northern California in summer (Sauer et al. 1997); California, Arizona and northern New Mexico in winter (Sauer et al. 1996).
Life History and Behavior
Lewis's Woodpeckers nest in excavated cavities which they may return to for many years. A female Lewis's Woodpecker can lay from five to nine egs in a season, though six to seven eggs are most common. The eggs vary in shape and size, from ovate to rounded. Eggs are white in color. Both sexes incubate the eggs which lasts for about two weeks. The hatchlings leave the nest about three to five weeks after leaving the shell. The infants have huge appetites being very fond of grasshoppers and wild strawberries. When the fledglings leave, each parent takes part of the brood. Both groups stay close to the nesting area for up to ten days. This woodpecker doesn't show as much parental affection as others of the woodpecker family. It doesn't show much emotion toward its young. It will sit close by and watch quietly while its eggs are taken by a predator.
They like to nest in old trees which are either burned or dead. They prefer burned ones which are blackened. They also enjoy large trees which have been broken off high up at about 175 feet. (Bent 1964, Winkler et al. 1995)
Life-long pair bond. Clutch size is five to nine (usually six to seven). Incubation, by both sexes, lasts 13-14 days. Young can fly 28-34 days after hatching (Terres 1980, Ehrlich et al. 1988).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Melanerpes lewis
There are 5 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Melanerpes lewis
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2008Least Concern
- 2004Least Concern
This species has a large range and population size. It is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
Rounded National Status Rank: N4B,N4N : N4B: Apparently Secure - Breeding, N4N: Apparently Secure - Nonbreeding
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Large range in western U.S. and adjacent southern Canada, but distribution can be spotty; apparently declining in abundance, and may have declined 60 per cent or more since the 1960s. Vulnerable to loss of nesting sites (large snags) such as may result from logging, urban and agricultural development; and to degradation of riparian habitats by drought and overgrazing.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Comments: On the basis of Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count data, overall population may have declined by approximately 60 per cent (Tobalske 1997). Populations tend to be scattered and irregular and are considered rare, uncommon, or irregularly common throughout range; local abundance may be cyclical or irregular (Tobalske 1997). In the past century, populations have apparently declined in British Columbia by more than 50 percent and decreased in Oregon, California, and Utah (DeSante and George 1994). BBS data indicate a significant decline in the United States for the period 1966-1999 (-3.6 per cent average annual or 67 per cent overall decline; P = 0.00; N = 64 survey routes) and nonsignificant declining trend between 1980 and 1996 (-1.7 per cent; P = 0.22; N = 53; Sauer et al. 2000). Similar significant, negative trends are present survey-wide, and for the Western BBS Region and for US Fish and Wildlife Service Region 1. Washington State posted a significant decline averaging -8.4 per cent annually for the same period (P = 0.01, N = 10). Overall, however, BBS sample sizes are relatively low for robust trend analysis (Sauer et al. 2000). Significant declines have occurred in coastal areas of Washington and the species is extirpated from coastal British Columbia (S. Cannings, D. Paulson pers. comm.). Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data show nonsignificant declining trends survey-wide and in California, Colorado, and Oregon, and a nonsignificant increase in Arizona, for the period from 1959 to 1988 (Sauer et al. 1996). Ehrlich et al. (1992) suggest that populations appear to have stabilized recently, but those in riparian habitats in arid regions continue to be vulnerable to drought, overgrazing, and other habitat degradations.
Degree of Threat: B : Moderately threatened throughout its range, communities provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure of the community over the long-term, but are apparently recoverable
Comments: Vulnerable to processes that result in a permanent loss of large snags (nesting sites) or degradation of foraging habitat. Such habitat alteration evidently is the reason for the declines that have occurred in coastal areas of British Columbia and Washington. Drought and overgrazing pose continued threats to riparian habitats in arid regions (Ehrlich et al. 1992). Fire suppression encourages the replacement of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests by Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and leads to denser, closed-canopy forest stands. Will decline with fire suppression in ponderosa pine/Douglas fir stands compared to regular fire intervals of 10-30 years (Saab and Dudley 1998). May be most sensitive to destruction of specialized winter habitat (Sousa 1983). Sousa (1983) also suggested that European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) may usurp nesting habitat.
Restoration Potential: Still locally and erratically common, but due to the widespread loss of preferred habitats and indications of steep population declines up to the 1990s, deserves conservation attention to prevent the species from becoming threatened. Restoration will depend on ability to protect large, soft snags from loss, and to maintain and restore open-canopied ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests and riparian cottonwood (POPULUS spp.) forests similar to pre-European-settlement habitats. Because it is closely associated with fire-dependent habitats, is opportunistic in following food resources, and local abundances are erratic, any conservation efforts must consider ecological processes and habitat management on landscape and regional scales.
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Habitat degradation and fragmentation that results in the loss of mature ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), oaks (Quercus spp.), or riparian cottonwood is detrimental. However, land management activities that create openings and edges for foraging could be beneficial (USDA Forest Service 1994). Breeds in cottonwood riparian forest, a severely threatened habitat. The importance of riparian habitat as a corridor is unknown. Is closely associated with post-fire habitats and fire-maintained open-canopy stands of ponderosa pine. Relationship to fire regimes, however, need further study. Is opportunistic and erratic, feeding where insects and nuts are locally abundant. May not be very sensitive to patch size and habitat connectivity, but landscape relationships need study.
Management Requirements: Maintaining open, park-like stands of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest and cottonwood forests, with snags, mature trees, shrubby understory, and a productive insect fauna would benefit the species.
FOREST MANAGEMENT: Large-scale removal of large dead trees, ponderosa pine, cottonwood, and other favored tree species would be detrimental. Favors open stands, however, and prescribed fire, selective cutting, and management that maintains an open canopy and retains soft-wooded, large snags would be beneficial. Cottonwood (POPULUS spp.) forests should be managed to maintain mature trees and snags and allow for the regeneration of cottonwood stands through periodic flooding and substrate-scouring (Tobalske 1997).
Thomas et al. (1979) presumed a linear relationship between abundance and snag densities, and suggested that maximum woodpecker density could be maintained in ponderosa pine forest by retaining 249 snags per hectare, at least 30.5 centimeter dbh and at least 9.1 meters tall. However, in Idaho ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests, Saab and Dudley (1998) predict that populations should respond positively to high intensity fires or to prescribed fire combined with stand management for an open canopy and partial snag retention. In forests that experienced high-intensity wildfires, were more abundant and successful in salvage-logged sites that retained at least 60 trees per hectare more than 23 centimeter dbh and at least 13 trees per hectare more than 53 centimeter dbh than in unlogged burned stands with significantly greater tree densities (Saab and Dudley 1998). The investigators recommended: (1) retaining clumps of trees rather than uniformly-distributed trees; (2) managing for snag recruitment; (3) retaining more large snags greater than 53 centimeter dbh in post-fire habitats for longevity of habitat suitability (Saab and Dudley 1998). Optimum snag densities and tree canopy closures need to be further studied.
Management Research Needs: A determination of the current status, population trend, and the reasons for declines in recent decades is a high priority. Further study is needed of relationships with landscape patterns, fire regimes, and stand-level habitat characteristics throughout the range. Need a better understanding of threats to the species, demographic patterns, and winter and migration habitat use. Information is needed on abundance and reproductive success across gradients of habitat quality in all parts of its range, similar to work in Idaho by Saab and Dudley (1998). Competition by starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) for nest sites has not been confirmed. Effects of habitat alterations, pesticides, and encroachment of human development need study.
Biological Research Needs: Geographic variations, migration routes, nutrition and energetics, predation and competition, life span and survivorship, causes of mortality, juvenile dispersal, and behavior need further study.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
They have been known to destroy crops of cherries and small fruit. (Bent 1964)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Lewis's Woodpecker eats mostly acorns and wild berries of varying varieties. They enjoy grasshoppers. They have been known to eat them exclusively until the grasshoppers were gone. They also eat many other insects. A set of these birds were watched for about forty-five minutes darting from their perches to catch insects and never missed catching one and in that time they ate thirty-five insects. Because they eat insects, they are beneficial to farmers. They prefer dead trees, so they don't harm living ones. (Bent 1964)
Stewardship Overview: Favors open forests and is closely associated with old-growth ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and mature riparian cottonwood (POPULUS spp.) forests throughout the West. Populations are thought to have widely declined with logging of ponderosa pine, loss of the open park-like quality of mature ponderosa pine to fire suppression and subsequent forest succession, and loss and degradation of cottonwood riparian habitats. Populations can be locally erratic and transitory, moving with the abundance and availability of insects and mast fruits, although individuals may return to same nest site in consecutive years. Unlike other woodpeckers, feeds by flycatching or gleaning, so an abundance of flying insects and the availability of perches with an open canopy or next to open areas are important habitat characteristics. Large, soft snags are critical for nest cavities. See Bock (1970) and Tobalske (1997) for detailed reviews of species' ecology.
Species Impact: An occasional orchard pest (Ehrlich et al. 1988).
The Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) is a large North American species of woodpecker which was named by ornithologist Alexander Wilson for Meriwether Lewis, one of the explorers who surveyed the areas bought by the United States of America during the Louisiana Purchase.
One of the largest species of American woodpeckers, Lewis's Woodpecker can be as large as 10 to 11 inches in length. It is mainly reddish-breasted, blackish-green in color with a black rump. It has a gray collar and upper breast, with a pinkish belly, and a red face. The wings are much broader than those of other woodpeckers, and it flies at a much more sluggish pace with slow, but even flaps similar to those of a crow.
Range and habitat
Lewis's Woodpecker is locally common, dwelling mostly in open pine woodlands, and other areas with scattered trees and snags. Unlike other American woodpeckers, it enjoys sitting in the open as opposed to sitting in heavy tree cover. It ranges mostly in the western to central United States, but can winter as far south as the US border with Mexico and summer as far north as Canada.
Lewis's Woodpecker engages in some rather un-woodpecker-like behavior in its gregarious feeding habits. Although it does forage for insects by boring into trees with its chisel-like bill, the bird also catches insects in the air during flight, (typical insect hawking), a habit that only a few other woodpeckers, such as the Acorn woodpecker, the Red-headed Woodpecker and the Northern flicker, engage in. Lewis's Woodpecker also feeds on berries and nuts, and will even shell and store nuts in cracks and holes in wood to store until winter. It will also feed at flat, open bird feeders where it might act aggressively toward other birds.
Lewis's Woodpecker nests in a cavity excavated from a dead tree branch. The nest is constructed mainly by the male. The female will lay between 5 and 9 eggs, which are plain white in coloration. Incubation is done by both sexes – the female sitting during the day and the male sitting at night – and lasts approximately 12 days, after which the young will hatch. The young leave the nest 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.