Lewis’s Woodpecker

Melanerpes lewis
Range Map

The Lewis’s Woodpecker behaves mostly in a very un-woodpecker-like manner. More often, it gleans insect prey from the surfaces of trees, or by ‘fly-catching’ (catching insects in mid-air). The range of these birds is western USA and southwestern Canada. They prefer open woodland habitat.

Our bird was discovered by ornithologists when Meriwether Lewis brought over 200 animal samples back from the famous Corps of Discovery Expedition. In 1806, famed ornithological pioneer Alexander Wilson named this bird in his honor.

2014 was a good year for meeting the Lewis’s Woodpecker. After finding them near June Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada’s (California) in August, I returned to San Diego County soon thereafter. While exploring the coastal mountains in the eastern county, I discovered a group of these unusual birds in a remote area on my way up-slope to some springs I’d recently learned about. Lewis’s Woodpeckers are a rarity in San Diego, and when I reported to the community, much interest was generated. It may have even been helpful for the Christmas Bird Count later that year. The following spring, while touring the intermountain western USA, I found them in western Montana. I’ve not seen them since.

Folks who study taxonomy regard the Lewis’s Woodpecker as monotypic (i.e. there are no subspecies).

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