Photo courtesy Byron Greco
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Lewis’ woodpecker.
For a woodpecker, this one displays some unusual characteristics. Rather than wearing the black and white patterns of many woodpeckers in our area, the chunky Lewis’ with its metallic green back and head, silver gray collar, bright red face and pinkish belly appears almost tropical.
Like a raptor, this bird is often found perched at the top of trees, an aid in its flycatcher-like feeding style. From here it will scan for prey and swoop out to catch an insect or glide up high like a swallow while feeding midair. The Lewis’ is not well-adapted to bore into trees for insects, but will glean them from trunks and branches.
When temperatures fall and insects become scarce, this woodpecker relies on fruits, berries and nuts for sustenance. Outside of breeding season, the Lewis’ is nomadic in its search for food, spending the winter where a good food source has been located in the autumn. Acorns are especially important and are cracked and stored in bark crevice storage areas, defended from other hungry birds.
Favored habitats include open old-growth pine forests with brushy undergrowth, riparian cottonwood galleries and recovering burned forests. The presence of snags or decaying wood with nest cavities is essential in breeding grounds. Pairs may mate for life and use the same nest cavity for many years. Lewis’ woodpecker populations have been in decline for many years due in large part to the loss of old-growth forests.
With a range limited to southern British Columbia and states west of the Dakotas and Texas, Lewis’ woodpeckers are uncommon birds in North America. Bird-watchers have been known to travel to Pagosa Springs in summer for a reliable sighting of this colorful woodpecker.
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