Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance  lewis_woodpecker
Latin Name: Melanerpes Lewis
Federal Status: Special Concern
Provincial Status: Red Listed

Characteristics


Lewis WoodpeckerLewis’ Woodpecker is unique among the woodpeckers with a glossy greenish-black head, back, wings and tail; rosy belly; grey collar and breast; and red face. It has grey feet and legs, black bill and dark coloured eyes. Body length is 22 cm with a wingspan of 45 cm. This particular woodpecker species is a quiet bird, except for an occasional harsh “churr” call. Its flight pattern is distinctive from other woodpeckers. Lewis’ Woodpeckers fly slow and direct, similar to crows or jays, with long glides. Insects such as ants, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, tent caterpillars, mayflies, and wild berries are the main food for Lewis’s Woodpecker in the summer, with ripe domestic fruit and nuts consumed in the fall and winter. Unlike other woodpeckers, this species does not bore for insects but will flycatch and glean insects from tree branches or tree trunks; it also drops from perch to capture insects on the ground.

Habitat and Distribution

In British Columbia, Lewis’ Woodpecker is limited to the drier parts of the Southern Interior from the Chilcotin River to the East Kootenays. It is more abundant in the Okanagan Valley than in any other part of British Columbia. Lewis’ Woodpecker prefers open ponderosa pine forests especially near water or within recently burned areas. Within this habitat, bushy areas are required for foraging and large wildlife trees are needed for nesting. It may also nest in live cottonwood trees, particularly when near ponderosa pine stands. It nests in self-excavated tree cavities, abandoned holes or natural cavities.

Threats

Federally, the Lewis’s Woodpecker is considered a species of Special Concern due to its small and locally distributed populations, restricted range, loss and vulnerability of habitat, and historical extirpation of coastal populations. It is estimated that there are fewer than 1000 in the province. Widespread clearing of ponderosa pine forests and cottonwood stands is likely responsible for much of the species decline in this century.

Click here to download a PDF version of this article.

Back to Spotlight on Wildlife Trees and Rare Woodpeckers

Back to Spotlight on Species and Habitats