Lewis: An Unusual Woodpecker

by Dave Hanks

Pink and green is an unusual color combination, but the LEWIS WOODPECKER is an unusual woodpecker. This bird is named for Meriwether Lewis, who shot a few specimens while on the Lewis and Clark expedition, and after returning home, gave them to the Philadelphia museum. There are very few American species that are pink or green. But, this one has a pink belly and a green back. This 11 inch bird, also, has a red face, and a white neck and throat – an interesting use of colors.

This is an unusual woodpecker, not only because of its coloration, but because of a habit of feeding in mid-air by catching flying insects. Berries and nuts are also eaten – the nuts stored in tree holes for winter consumption.

The Lewis Woodpecker is strictly a western species. Oregon and Northern California woodlands have been especially attractive to this species. These areas are abundant in open Ponderosa Pine forests, riparian woodlands (dominated by cottonwoods), and logged woodlands with standing snags – ideal for nesting. These are the habitats that the bird prefers.

There was a cottonwood tree (that has since been cut down) that was a favorite nesting site for Lewis Woodpeckers. It was on the upper entrance to the Harrington Fork picnic area – along Rock creek in Twin Falls County. We used to visit it every spring to see the woodpeckers. It was a sad day when it was no more. Since the loss of many special trees along Rock Creek, we have had to go further afield to find our pink-bellied friend. Once we visited a central Idaho campground, where the species was reported to have been seen. We were disappointed when the campground host told us that we were a couple of weeks late. But not so fast! I found one down by the river!

Loss of habitat has put this species in trouble. It would be a shame, if this neat bird became extinct!


Resting in a cottonwood tree by the Salmon River


Vermillion Flycatchers are Easily Identified

Unlike many Flycatchers, there is no mistaking the Vermilion. It is such a bright bundle of color that you can’t forget it. The male is a brilliant red on his undersides and head. This is contrasted with a blackish/brown stripe though his eye and a dark back and wings. The female trades the red for white, with a pinkish wash along her sides. She, also, is very attractive.

They are insectivores that spot their prey from a perch. The male will spend 90% of his time in this mode. He then will occasionally fly out to nab a meal and then return to the same spot. This hunting behavior is repeated with the bird gradually flying a circuit – eventually coming back to the starting point. I have observed this tendency, and as a result, I have sat by one of the perches and the bird will eventually return to where I sit.

Male courtship display involves fluttering and singing about 11 to 33 feet above the vegetative canopy. Mating is initiated by the male feeding the female a bright insect, like a butterfly. She lays 2 to 4 creamy eggs that have dark splotches on them. The young are altricial (helpless at birth).

This 5 to 6 inch species can be found in southwestern USA scrublands, deserts, riparian woodlands, or irrigated farmlands. Big Bend National Park, in southwestern Texas, is a long ways from Burley, Idaho. But, it has one of the largest populations of this bird in our country. When we have journeyed that far south, we have always kept an eye out for this brilliant fellow.

I have chased this bird until I have become more knowledgeable about its behavior. The adage: “To sit and sit is more productive than to pursue” is certainly the case with the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Vermillion Flycatcher sitting on a branch

Using our truck cab as a blind – A Vermilion returns to his perch

Nighttime in the Woods

Daylight slowly releases its grip 
          And the dark becomes the master.
The woodland visitor now escapes this alien realm 
	To seek the security of his bed,
Whether sleeping bag, or a more protected recluse.
	But when the sun goes down
The creatures of the night venture forth,
	Creeping so quietly and masked in darkness.
Sleep locks the drama safely away,
	But insomnia can at times provide clues
Clues that something is about;
	A scratching, a soft bang, or muted growl;  
Can tempt one to leave that comforting warmth
	To sate newly aroused curiosity.
A rich moment to be captured   
	As flashlight beam reveals pairs of glistening eyes!
Fat, furry bodies or sleek ones with enormous tails,
	Respond with silent retreat only to reappear
As campground attractions prove too irresistible.
	Normal fear is over shadowed by visceral necessity.
I have lived these special moments.
	Though somewhat painful to leave one's bed,
So carefully heated with body warmth and position snugly found,
	The effort well worth the reward.
Moments treasured long after discomfort of rising
	Has been erased when once the deed is done.
Experience with earth's wild creatures:
	A never ending source of excitement and wonder!  

Eyes in the Night