Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Northern Flicker, Pygmy Nuthatch,
House Wren, and Western Bluebird.
Distribution: Lewis's Woodpeckers breed from central British Columbia and western Alberta
south to northern Mexico, and as far east as eastern Wyoming. In Colorado, Lewis's
Woodpeckers reside in the valleys, plains and foothills from 1100 to 2400 m (3,500-8,000 ft) in
elevation. The Arkansas River watershed, the pinyon-juniper country of Las Animas and
Huerfano counties, and the San Juan Basin hold the largest concentrations. Smaller numbers
reside in west-central valleys and plateaus, the edge of the Front Range from Denver to Wyoming,
and the Black Forest northeast of Colorado Springs. Many birds that nest at higher elevations
and latitudes withdraw to lower elevations and latitudes during the winter. In Physiographic Area
62 in Colorado, this species occupies low-elevation ponderosa pine forests, especially in riparian
Habitat Requirements: Lewis's Woodpeckers breed in open ponderosa pine forests with large
trees and snags and in burned forest with abundant snags. Compared to other woodpeckers,
Lewis's Woodpeckers have weak bills and skulls and are largely incapable of excavating cavities
in sound wood. Instead, they excavate their nesting and roosting cavities in soft wood, or rely on
natural cavities or cavities excavated by other woodpeckers.
Ecology: These woodpeckers are residents in Colorado, although individuals may wander after
the breeding season. They initiate nesting by late April, and most young leave the nest by the end
of July. Their diet during the warmer months consists largely of flying insects, caught on the
wing. During colder months, their diet shifts to nuts, grains, and berries.
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Lewis's Woodpeckers depend on
commercially-valuable large trees and snags and an open stand structure for aerial pursuit of
insects. Fire suppression policies contribute to a closed stand structure. Retain stands of mature
and old-growth ponderosa pine forest, restored to presettlement conditions (open stand structure
with clusters of large trees and a grassy understory).
These woodpeckers are sensitive to human disturbance at the nest. Restrict commercial and
recreational timber cutting and recreation development (roads, trails, campgrounds) in areas
with known Lewis's Woodpecker nest cavities.
Status and Reasons for Concern: This species is on the national Watch List, indicating a high
conservation need throughout its range. It is classified as a Sensitive Species in U.S. Forest
Service Region 2. This species is not adequately monitored by the BBS within Physiographic
Area 62, and BBS data collected between 1969 and 1996 are too sparse to allow analysis of trend
data (n = 10 routes). Lewis's Woodpeckers were present on an average of 4.60% (SE = 1.47) of
routes run in Physiographic Area 62 in Colorado, 1988-1997, at an average abundance of 0.16
(SE = 0.06) individuals per route. The mean number of routes run each year was 21.1 (SE =
3.06). This species is monitored by MCB with tracking transects.
Biological Objective: Maintain or increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon
results of the BBS and MCB monitoring programs.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Kingery 1998, Tobalske 1997, Vierling 1997.