Common Name

Scientific Name

View Utah Distribution Map

Photo by Dave Menke
Photo Courtesy of U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Distribution: Lewis's woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis, breeds from southern British Columbia to southwestern South Dakota, and from northwestern Nebraska to south-central California, as well as in central Utah, southern New Mexico, and eastern Colorado (DeGraaf et al. 1991). It winters south to northwestern Mexico (Ehrlich et al. 1988), including northern Oregon, southern Idaho, central Colorado, and south-central Nebraska, irregularly occurring in northern Baja California, northern Mexico, southern New Mexico, and west Texas (DeGraaf et al. 1991). The northern part of the population moves to southern parts of its range in the non-breeding season (Stokes 1996).

Ecology: The Lewis's woodpecker is a cavity nester, excavating a hole in tall trees, often dead or blackened by fire (DeGraaf et al. 1991; Stokes 1996; Ehrlich et al. 1988). It will also nest in utility poles, or stumps, but prefers ponderosa pine, cottonwood, or sycamore. The male selects the site but both male and female excavate the cavity (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The male and female incubate 6-7 white eggs for 13-14 days; the male incubating at night, and both alternating during the day (Stokes 1996; Ehrlich et al. 1988). The young are altricial and fledge in 28-34 days after being attended by both parents (ibid.). One or possibly two broods are produced yearly (Stokes 1996).

The diet of this woodpecker consists of insects during the breeding season and nuts and berries during the winter (Ehrlich et al. 1988; Stokes 1996; DeGraaf et al. 1991). Insects are caught in the air by flying out from a perch site, sometimes with very acrobatic flights. It is the only woodpecker than perches on wires (Ehrlich et al. 1988). Insects are also picked off leaves or from the ground (Stokes 1996).

In the fall, the diet is mainly fruits and berries. Acorns or other nuts are stored (and used in winter) by removing the shell, breaking the nut into bits that will wedge into natural crevices of dead trees, power poles and oaks (Ehrlich et al. 1988; Stokes 1996; DeGraaf et al. 1991). This caching of food is not done communally, and the Lewis's woodpecker will defend a winter store of food from other woodpeckers (primarily acorn woodpeckers). Seeds and fruit at feeders can be used. There is no apparent foraging differences between the sexes. The Lewis's woodpecker flight is unusual, by steady crow-like wing beats, rather than alternating bursts of wing beats and undulating flight like other woodpeckers.

Habitat Requirements: The major breeding habitat consists of open park-like ponderosa pine forests (DeGraaf et al. 1991). The Lewis's woodpecker is attracted to burned-over Douglas-fir, mixed conifer, pinyon-juniper, riparian, and oak woodlands, but is also found in the fringes of pine and juniper stands, and deciduous forests, especially riparian cottonwoods (ibid.). Areas with a good under-story of grasses and shrubs to support insect prey populations are preferred. Dead trees and stumps are required for nesting. Wintering grounds are over a wide range of habitats, but oak woodlands are preferred.


  • Text modified from: Parrish, J. R., F. P. Howe, and R. E. Norvell. 1999. Utah Partners in Flight draft conservation strategy. UDWR publication number 99-40. Utah Partners in Flight Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Salt Lake City.