Species and Plant Community
Accounts for Identified Wildlife

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Birds - Woodpeckers

LEWIS' WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)


Lewis' woodpecker is BLUE-listed. It is absent from much of its former range in southwestern B.C. Declines have been attributed to loss of riparian habitat, and loss of burned ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir due to fire suppression.


The Lewis' woodpecker forages in open woodlands and riparian areas, which provide sufficient visibility and space for effective flycatching. It feeds mainly on flying insects that are caught on the wing or by hawking from exposed perches. It also consumes insects such as ants that are caught on the ground, in low brush, or occasionally gleaned from tree surfaces. Fruits and berries compose the main diet in late summer and fall, while winter food consists mainly of nuts and other seeds. These woodpeckers collect nuts and seeds, often concealing them under bark crevices for winter storage. The Lewis' woodpecker usually nests in cavities excavated by other woodpeckers, but natural cavities are occasionally used and the same cavity is often occupied in consecutive years. In a few places, Lewis' woodpeckers nest in loose aggregations. During the spring breeding season, the Lewis' woodpecker protects only its immediate nest site, but in winter it defends a feeding area of up to six hectares. In winter, they roost in mature deciduous and coniferous trees and snags, similar to those used for nesting. Scanning perches are important year-round.


Ecoprovinces: Ecosections

Biogeoclimatic units

Breeding range

Lewis' woodpecker breeds locally throughout lowland areas of B.C.'s southern interior, from the U.S. border north to Williams Lake, Revelstoke and Invermere. It can be found from sea level to 1150 m elevation. Its centre of breeding abundance is in the Okanagan valley.

Nonbreeding range

This species is locally distributed across southern B.C. from Vancouver Island east to the Kootenays, and north to the Chilcotin-Cariboo basin. It is a very rare summer visitant to the south coast including southern Vancouver Island.

Wintering and migration

Lewis' woodpecker winters from southern B.C. to northern Mexico. A few birds are resident in the Okanagan valley with the centre of abundance from Vaseux Lake to Summerland. In B.C., this woodpecker tends to be restricted to residential areas and orchards in winter.

Habitat requirements

Broad ecosystem units

Structural stage

3a: shrub stage for foraging when insects are abundant
6-7: mature - old conifer stands (age class 7-9), mature hardwoods
(age class 5-7) especially in low elevation riparian habitats

Critical habitats and habitat features

The Lewis' woodpecker is a wildlife tree user. Although it can excavate its own nest, it is an inefficient excavator and prefers to use previously excavated holes. It will excavate cavities in large trees, primarily ponderosa pine and black cottonwood, with extensive heartrot (decaying centre). Nest cavities have been found from 1-30 m above ground, but most are between 3.5 and 9 m. Optimal breeding habitats contain large snags (>30 cm dbh), open tree canopy (25% closure), and a shrub understorey (50% crown cover) that harbours abundant insect prey. In riparian areas, the understorey component is not essential. Broken-topped or large limbed trees are used as hawking perches and live or dead trees with heartrot (WT class 2-6) are suitable nesting and roosting trees; however, softer snags (WT class 4-6) are preferred.

Other desirable habitats are partially logged or burned coniferous forest, and deciduous and riparian woodlands. At low elevations, riparian habitat with black cottonwood is preferred. In the Cariboo and East Kootenay Trench, grasslands with large diameter wildlife trees are desirable.

Selected references

Enns, K.A., E. Peterson and D. McLennan. 1993. Impacts of hardwood management on
British Columbia wildlife: problem analysis. For. Can., B.C. Min. For., Victoria, B.C. FRDA Rep. No. 208.

Keisker, D.G. 1987. Nest tree selection by primary cavity-nesting birds in south-central
British Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Victoria, B.C. Wildl. Rep. No. R-13.

Mannan, R.W., E.C. Meslow and H.M Wight. 1980. Use of snags by birds in Douglas-fir
forests, western Oregon. J. Wildl. Manage. 44:787-797.

Rodrick, E. and R. Milner. 1991. Management recommendations for Washington's
priority habitats and species. Wash. Dep. Wildl., Olympia, WA.

Siddle, C. and G. Davidson. 1991. Status of the Lewis' woodpecker in British Columbia.
Draft. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Br., Victoria, B.C.

Wright, V. and B. Wales. 1993. Bibliography of selected literature regarding the
management of cavity excavators in eastside habitats: Oregon and Washington. USDA For. Serv., La Grande, OR.

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