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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Cavity Makers

Lewis’s Woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis

Lewis's Woodpecker perched on a decaying tree

Lewis’s Woodpeckers breed in open pine forests, oak woodlands, and riparian woodlands in western North America from May to August.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are commonly found in open ponderosa pine forests and riparian woodlands, which are habitats characterized by tall trees with open understories where flying insects and nuts are abundant during the breeding season.

They forage in open woodlands and along forest edges for flying insects such as beetles, ants, wasps, and grasshoppers. They may also feed on acorns, nuts, and berries.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers have a unique feeding behavior compared to other woodpeckers. They catch insects in flight, a behavior more typical of flycatchers, and also forage for nuts and seeds in trees and on the ground.

Courtship involves aerial displays where males perform swooping flights and fluttering maneuvers to attract females. Both sexes may also engage in mutual preening and feeding.

Cavities are typically made in dead or decaying trees, ranging from 2 to 30 meters above ground, in open pine forests and riparian woodlands. They often choose trees with softer wood, such as pines and cottonwoods.

Nest building involves both sexes excavating the cavity, which takes about 1 to 2 weeks. The nest cavity is unlined, with wood chips left at the bottom.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers prefer natural cavities in dead or decaying trees within their natural habitats. Although their use of nest boxes may be rare, older US Fish & Wildlife guidance included nest box dimensions for Lewis’s Woodpeckers. See Lewis’s Woodpecker Nest Box Plans.

Egg laying typically begins in late May to early June, with the female laying 5 to 9 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 12 to 14 days. After hatching, both parents feed the chicks with insects and regurgitated food.

Chicks learn to forage by observing and following adult birds. They are vulnerable to predation by larger birds and mammals. As they develop, they begin to catch their own insects and forage for nuts and berries more independently.

Chick fledging occurs about 28 to 34 days after hatching. Adults continue to guide and feed the fledglings for several weeks, during which the young woodpeckers learn to forage more effectively and expand their diet.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are partial migrants. Northern populations move to lower elevations or more southerly regions in the winter. They use well-established flyways and winter in regions including the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico.

Wintering habitats include open woodlands, groves of trees, and agricultural areas where they forage for acorns, nuts, and wintering insects.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers leave their wintering grounds in late March to early April and return north by May to begin the breeding season.