In Our Backyard: Lewis’s Woodpecker


The Lewis’s woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) is a striking bird found in the Thompson Nicola Region that’s known for its vibrant feathers and unique behaviors. With its glossy green-black feathers, salmon-coloured belly, and red face, this woodpecker is a sight to behold. Named after explorer Meriwether Lewis, this species relies on open ponderosa pine forests and woodlands for its survival. Unlike its name, this species of woodpecker doesn’t peck wood to forage wood-boring insects. Instead, it has evolved to catch flies, often from a treetop perch. Lewis’s woodpecker is currently facing endangerment due to habitat loss and a decline in suitable nesting sites.

Habitat and Distribution

Historically, the Lewis’s woodpecker inhabited extensive tracts of open forests and woodlands in western North America, including parts of the Thompson Nicola Watershed. However, its population has significantly declined due to habitat loss, changes in land use, and fire suppression practices. Today, it can be found in fragmented pockets of suitable habitat throughout its range.

Threats to the Lewis’s Woodpecker

The Lewis’s woodpecker faces several challenges that have led to its endangerment in the Thompson Nicola Watershed. The main threats include:

  • Habitat Loss: Human activities, including logging, urbanization, and agriculture, have resulted in the loss and fragmentation of the woodpecker’s preferred habitat. Open forests with a mix of dead and live trees, snags, and burned areas are crucial for nesting and foraging. The loss of these habitat features has severely impacted the woodpecker’s population.
  • Lack of Suitable Nesting Sites: The Lewis’s woodpecker relies on tree cavities for nesting, however, the reduction in standing dead trees (called snags in forest ecology) and the removal of old-growth forests have limited the availability of suitable nest sites. Competition with invasive species, such as European starlings, for these limited nesting spaces further heightens the woodpecker’s challenges.

Image: Dario Taraborelli, CC BY NC 2.0

Conservation Efforts

Efforts are underway to protect and restore the Lewis’s woodpecker population in the Thompson Nicola Watershed. Conservation initiatives include:

  • Habitat Restoration: Organizations and land managers are working to restore and maintain open Ponderosa pine forests and woodlands, ensuring the availability of suitable habitat for the woodpecker. Active forest management practices, such as controlled burns and snag creation, are employed to mimic natural processes and enhance habitat diversity.
  • Nest Box Programs: To mitigate the shortage of natural nest sites, nest box programs have been implemented. These artificial nesting structures provide additional breeding opportunities for the woodpecker, supplementing the limited availability of natural cavities.
  • Public Engagement and Education: Public awareness campaigns and educational programs play a crucial role in fostering a sense of stewardship among local communities. By highlighting the importance of preserving the Lewis’s woodpecker’s habitat, these initiatives encourage individuals to actively participate in conservation efforts.

The Lewis’s woodpecker’s endangered status in the Thompson Nicola Region serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between human activities and wildlife conservation. By prioritizing habitat preservation, restoration, and public engagement, we can help protect this charismatic woodpecker and ensure the sustainability of its population for future generations.

Additional Resources