May has had its usual fling of one last snowstorm. Fortunately, this year it was just about four inches, not the four feet it brought us a few years ago. Now that it has succeeded in ruining Mother’s Day for a good many people, it seems to be clearing up and the coming week’s forecast looks like we will be having not just spring, but summer weather.
I didn’t get out on a birding trip this week, but I had proof of an interesting sighting brought to me.
My friends, Cheryl and Mike Quaintance, who live out Bailey way, usually swing by to visit whenever they have a reason to come to Evergreen, and they did this past week. Mike is one of the finest photographers I know. He tells me his secret is just patience. When I admire his photos, he just quietly says, “You just have to have the patience to sit still and wait for the light to be right or the bird to pose or whatever you want.” I am sure that is true, plus fine equipment are both part of his success. However, it is also the ability to see in the mind’s eye what he wants and is waiting for as well as the good luck of having birds appear in his yard or other places he is waiting for them with his camera, which in this case happened to be an amazing photograph of a Lewis’ woodpecker perched on his porch railing.
In the nearly 50 years I have lived in Colorado, I have seen only two Lewis’ woodpeckers. The first one was in May in Red Rocks Park, and the second was near Palmer in the Platte River Valley. Both of these birds appeared to be migrating for they did not remain in the area.
The Lewis’ woodpecker was collected on the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition and named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the expedition. It is a most striking woodpecker. It is mostly an iridescent black with a red belly and face. It’s not just a plain red but a most unusual shade of bright pink. It is so colorful that it seems like it must be some exotic tropical bird. They are big woodpeckers. Many authors write of their looking like a crow flying away from you. This is true, but they are a good bit smaller than a crow, being a tiny bit smaller than a flicker and larger than a hairy woodpecker. They have a red face and belly, a pale gray breast and collar. Their black back has a green iridescence in sunlight. Quite a handsome bird.
Although most books list them as a common bird in the western states, I have never found them to be common. They are not known in the East, but I haven’t found them to be very common even in their home range. Their range is limited to the far West, mostly in the foothill valleys, the Rocky Mountains, west to the coast and from northern Mexico to southern British Columbia.
Even in this small range, they are not very common for I have seen only two. Kevin Cook of Fort Collins and “Bird Watcher’s Digest” fame is currently studying Lewis’ woodpeckers. We may have more information on these interesting birds when he has completed his work, but I imagine it is difficult to study a bird that is so hard to find.
One of the common colloquial names for this bird is the crow woodpecker, which is not only due to its dark coloring but also due to its slow crow-like flight, without the undulations that most woodpeckers display. I now have an incredible photograph of one, and I hope you all see one someday. They prefer open valleys or clearings in forests or old burn areas, so they may increase in the area after all the fires we have had in recent years. Time will tell.
In stream valleys, they prefer big old cottonwoods. Several of the books I have used for reference noted that they tend to be very common in an area for a few years, and then they all but disappear. This could be because they have to search out burn areas and then wait for the standing trees to become old enough to house insects, which they need for food. These are just some of the questions that perhaps Kevin Cook’s study may answer. So, let me know if you have a Lewis’ woodpecker on your property and would like to have it included in Kevin’s research.