13 Interesting Facts About The Lewis’s Woodpecker


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The Lewis’s woodpecker, so named because it was first documented during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, is a woodpecker unlike other woodpeckers. Its behaviors and characteristics mimic that of other bird species.

A large woodpecker that makes its home in the ponderosa pine forests of western North America, the Lewis’s woodpecker is one odd bird, as you will find out when you read these 13 facts that set the Lewis’s woodpecker apart from other woodpeckers.

1. The Lewis’s Woodpecker Doesn’t Peck Wood

The Lewis’s woodpecker differs from all its woodpecker cousins in that it doesn’t peck wood. The bird’s bill is really not designed to drill holes in hardwood as other woodpeckers do.

Other woodpeckers peck wood in search of insects to eat and carve out nesting holes. The Lewis’s woodpecker has adopted a different method of finding food. 

It also nests in existing holes, so it doesn’t have to chip out its own.


2. It’s Pink!

Photo: Jim Gain / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Well, it is not entirely pink, but the Lewis’s woodpecker sports a prominent pink belly. It has a black-green back and wings, a red face, and appears to be wearing a silver collar.

Measuring up to 11 inches long, the Lewis’s woodpecker is one of the biggest woodpecker species in North America.

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3. The Lewis’s Woodpecker Is A Slow Flier

The Lewis’s woodpecker has wings that are much broader than other members of its family. It has an average wingspan of about 20 inches. 

With its broader wings, the Lewis’s woodpecker flies slower than other woodpeckers, but that is not a hindrance.

The flight pattern of the Lewis’s woodpecker is distinguishable from other woodpeckers. The bird can glide for long distances and will flap its wings like a crow. 

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It is more buoyant in flight; therefore, it is capable of some impressive aerial maneuvers. 


4. Its Feeding Habits Change From Summer To Winter

The Lewis’s woodpecker has two different feeding behaviors, depending on the time of year. Each one is unique to the Lewis’s woodpecker and not observed in other species of woodpeckers.

The Lewis’s woodpecker is an omnivore, meaning it eats both plants and animals. As we will see next, it is how it finds and consumes its meals that is unusual.


5. The Lewis’s Woodpecker Behaves Like A Flycatcher In The Summer

Flying insects make up most of the Lewis’s woodpecker’s diet in the spring and summer. Unlike other woodpeckers that search for bugs beneath tree bark, the Lewis’s woodpecker catches its meals mid-flight.

The Lewis’s woodpecker sits on a high perch and swoops down on flying insects, catching them mid-air. During the warmer months, it will also eat berries and small fruits, as well as the insects it finds on the fruits.


6. The Lewis’s Woodpecker Should Be Called An Acorn Pecker

During the fall and winter, the Lewis’s woodpecker collects acorns and other small nuts. It stores them in existing holes it finds in trees.

Using its strong bill, the Lewis’s woodpecker pounds open the acorns and nuts, breaking them into pieces. All winter long, it dines on these cracked acorns.


7. The Lewis’s Woodpecker Sometimes Plays With Its Food

Biologists have noted that the Lewis’s woodpecker is one of the more social woodpeckers. They can often be seen in large flocks.

The playful bird even likes to play with its food. They have been observed tossing their food around, swinging it in their beaks, and hanging upside down on branches with their food before they eat it.

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8. They Don’t Have Much To Say, But When They Do, You’ll Hear It

The Lewis’s woodpecker is one of the quietists of all woodpecker species. Although the males can chatter, they usually keep their vocalizations to a minimum for most of the year.

That’s not the case, however, when it is breeding season.

During the breeding season, male Lewis’s woodpeckers will repeat a loud, sharp call that sounds like “Churrrr”. They will repeat it four to eight times in quick succession to ward off competing males.

The call of the Lewis’s woodpecker can be heard more than a mile away.


9. Lewis’s Woodpeckers Are Monogamous

The male Lewis’s woodpecker wins over his mate with his courtship displays. Those included flying in gliding circles around a nesting tree. 

The male will also sit on a perch, puff out his neck and throat feathers, and spread out his wings.

Nesting pairs often mate for life. They will reuse the same nesting site over and over again.


10. They Don’t Really Make Their Own Nesting Holes

Since the Lewis’s woodpecker is not well-equipped to drill holes in trees, nesting pairs will make use of tree cavities they find. They will take over holes carved by other woodpecker species or other animals or find naturally occurring ones.

If they spot a small hole in a dead and decaying tree, the male Lewis’s woodpecker has sometimes been observed expanding the hole by pecking the wood. But it will only do so if the wood is soft enough to make the job easy.


11. The Dads Are On Night Duty

The female Lewis’s woodpecker lays between five and eight eggs at a time. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs. Males incubate almost exclusively at night.

The chicks hatch after about 15 days. For the next six weeks, both parents will feed their offspring, usually small insects or fruit.

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Even though the hatchlings will leave the nest at about six weeks of age, they will remain close to their parents for several more weeks.


12. Lewis’s Woodpeckers Aren’t Migratory, But They Do Move Around

Photo: Teddy Llovet / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

They are not exactly migratory, but flocks of Lewis’s woodpeckers typically spend the summer months in valleys, fruit orchards, open grasslands, and recently burned forests.

In fact, it is one of the first birds to move into an area that has been ravaged by wildfires.

In the fall, the flocks will wander to higher elevations, oak forests, and denser wooded areas. They stick close to oak trees as acorns are their primary food source over the winter months.


13. Lewis’s Woodpeckers Are Impacted By Deforestation

Several decades ago, populations of Lewis’s woodpeckers were on the decline. The biggest threats are habitat loss, as deforestation and urban development have led to a decline in suitable nesting sites for these birds.

The good news is that conservation efforts have been successful in helping to protect the species. Various organizations have been working to create protected areas for the birds and to educate people about the importance of preserving this unique species.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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