WatchList Species Account for Lewis’s Woodpecker
(Melanerpes lewis)

Qualifies for the list as a Red List Species


Lewis's Woodpecker

Photo: Tom Grey

Roughly matching the distribution of the ponderosa pine, the Lewis’s Woodpecker occurs in western North America from eastern British Columbia south to New Mexico, west to western California and east to Colorado. In the early 20th century, it expanded onto the plains of south-eastern Colorado, apparently due to the presence of mature cotton-woods and cornfields. In winter it withdraws from the northern part of its range, typically occuring in oak woodlands and orchards. Lewis's Woodpecker favors open forests, ranging altitudinally from low-elevation riparian areas with cottonwoods to burns and ponderosa pine forests at higher elevations.


The Lewis's Woodpecker occurs sporadically within its breeding range, disappearing for years at a time, then returning in some numbers. In summer it eats mostly insects; in winter it switches to acorns and other nuts, often storing them in bark crevices. It engages in aggressive encounters with other species of woodpeckers over these caches.


There are no estimates of total population size, but Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counds indicate that the species may have declined by about 60% since the 1960s. The bird depends on standing large dead trees for nesting and old cottonwoods or power poles with desiccation cracks for winter food storage sites.


Lewis's Woodpecker would be helped through protecting old-growth ponderosa pine forest and burned coniferous forest from logging, retaining these areas in open, parklike stands, maintaining snags, and not densely replanting trees after cuts.