Posted by: atowhee | November 5, 2013


There are a lot of birds I enjoy watching, some I find endearing, others amazing. The Lewis’s Woodpecker is somehow up in my personal pantheon with the Sandhill Crane, Shoebill (an ambulatory pelican), Hoopoe, Yellow-breasted Chat, dippers of all species and any puffin anywhere.
The Lewis’s Woodpecker is a bird of the arid western forests of North America. Oak, ponderosa, digger pine and similar drought-tolerant trees are its métier, as they say.
Where I live now the species nests about forty miles to the south, then comes up here to winter in the open oak savannah at around 1200-3000′ elevation.P1760432 (1280x1280)LEWO FL9IES2 (1280x1280)
In a rather sharpish comment Kenn Kaufman in his LIVES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS says “one of our oddest woodpeckers–and not only because of its colors, which include pink, silver, and oily green.”
I prefer to think of my local Lewis’s as eccentric, not “odd.” And that green is iridescent, not “oily.”
But Kaufman has chosen to live back in Ohio where he can feast on colorful wood warblers each spring. Perhaps he doesn’t have the refined taste it takes to appreciate the eccentricities and colorful subtleties of our Melanerpes lewis.
LEWO FLIES (1280x1280)

LEWO IN AIR (1280x1280)
The Lewis’s has a more moth-like flight, buoyant and almost weightless in appearance, than other woodpeckers with their typical undulating flight of flap, rise, glide, droop, flap, rise, glide. This woodpecker is not only a driller, though less vigorous than say a Pileated or even a sapsucker, he is a consummate flycatcher.
LEWO SOAR1 (1280x1280) In California the Lewis’s can be found on Mt. Hamilton above 4000′ and along much of the western slope of the Sierra. In Oregon there are three pockets of breeding Lewis’s: southern Cascades, east of the Cascades in the Sandy River basin and in northeastern Oregon’s mountain ranges.
P1760461 (1280x1280)The slight, faint peeps are all this bird uses for vocalization. None of the loud calls of the Pileated or the sharp “clear” call of the Flicker. And he is social like his cousin the Acorn with which he shares a genus and a love of oaks and acorns.

P1760462 (1280x1280)The Lewis’s may mate for life and re-use a nest site for generations. Saves having to drill another hole, unlike more vigorous wood-workers in the woodpecker clan: Downy, Hairy, Red-headed, et al.
Right now the Lewis’s are performing in an ensemble at Milepost 10 along Oregon Hwy 66 east of Emigrant Lake. That’s where I took these pictures. They are also at the waterslide area of Emigrant Lake Recreation Area and on the east side of Agate Lake northeast of Medford. Certainly there are groups around Table Rock and in Sam’s Valley in north Jackson County though I have not personally been up there this year.
Here are some Lewis’s in images taken on sunny days in better light, so you can see some of the colors:L-W IN BUDS (1280x855)

LEW WO3 (1280x1124)

LEW WO-EM LAK (1280x941)

LEWO--MT HAM This final picture was taken on Mt. Hamilton last spring.
Lewis and Clarke discovered this species on their expedition, 1803-5. Thomas Nuttall met with the bird three decades later on his trip to Oregon and California, “this remarkable bird…They often perch in the usual manner of other birds, as well as climb, but they are also in the habit of darting out from their station and after performing a circular sweep return to the branch, spreading their wings horizontally and sailing like so many hawks.”
Now that shows some proper respect.

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