Melanerpes lewisLewis's woodpecker

Geographic Range

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)


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)

Physical Description

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
    4.05 oz


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)


It has been noted by several observers that Lewis's Woodpeckers seen in flight can be mistaken for a crow. Its flight is strong and slow with steady strokes. It is smooth and not clumsy in the air, catching insects while in flight. It has a playful disposition while in flight. Several people have reported seeing many of them circling at an elevation of about 500 feet with the ease of a falcon, not stroking at all. The birds who are up high sailed in wide circles, they continued in this manner a long while, appearing to be miniature crows.

Lewis's Woodpeckers love hot sunshine. They sit on the tops of tall dead trees watching the air for insects. They are rarely heard tapping. They do not sit vertically on the trunk, but crosswise on a branch. They also perch on wires, which other woodpeckers don't do. Lewis's Woodpecker are comfortable on the ground, searching for food and eating there too.

It is a quiet bird having a low twittering, hardly ever being loud. In the mating season it does utter a chirring sound and a high pitched squalling chee-up repeated for long periods of time. Near the nest, the adults give a series of sharp sounds of ick, ick, ick. The babies hiss which is the same sound made by other young woodpeckers.

Lewis's Woodpeckers are migratory, disappearing almost totally from the northern part of its range in the winter. It is known to move from place to place, being abundant in certain areas during fall and winter and absent entirely during the other seasons. During the fall they tend to stay in large flocks searching for food. (Bent, 1964, Eckstrom 1901)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

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)

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)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

They have been known to destroy crops of cherries and small fruit. (Bent 1964)

Conservation Status

This species has a large range and population size. It is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.


Sandi Done (author), Fresno City College, Rodney Olsen (editor), Fresno City College.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Bent, A. 1964. Life histories of North American Woodpeckers. New York: Dover publications.

Eckstrom, F. 1901. The Woodpecker. New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press.

Robbins, C., B. Brun, H. Zim. A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America. New York: Golden Book New York Press.

Small, A. 1994. California Birds: Their Status and Distribution. Ibis Publishing Company.

Winkler, H., D. Christie, D. Nurney. 1995. Woodpeckers A Guide To The Woodpeckers Of The World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.