Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lewis and Clark 2: Lewis’s Woodpecker

On 20 July 1805, Meriwether Lewis wrote, “I saw a black woodpecker (or crow) today… it is a distinct species of woodpecker; it has a long tail and flys a good deal like the jay bird” (Vierling 2013). Later the ornithologist Alexander Wilson scientifically described and named this bird after Lewis. A skin of the Lewis’s Woodpecker at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology is perhaps the only surviving intact specimen taken during the Lewis and Clark expedition (Johnsgard 2003).

Lewis’s Woodpeckers look strange. They have a flight pattern that looks more like a crow than a woodpecker. The species is found across western North America. They are not good excavators, so require snags in dead or partly dead trees and need decayed wood in which to drill nest holes. Often good places to search for Lewis’s Woodpeckers are recently burned forest tracts. On the other hand, I took this photo of a woodpecker on a suburban rooftop several years ago on the outskirts of Missoula, Montana.

(Note from previous Lewis and Clark post: I have since discovered that the Clark’s Grebe is not named for Meriwether Lewis’s co-leader William Clark, but John Clark, an early American naturalist and surveyor.)

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