Lewis's Woodpecker

Species Profile: Lewis’s Woodpecker

Lewis’s Woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis

Learn more about this species in the Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America.

Introduction to the species

“Lewis’s examination of the ‘black woodpecker’ reveals the temperament of discovery he embodied for his time. His description rings with a sensual curiosity toward nature, disciplined by an undistilled impulse to classify and measure. His was a science of the five senses, grounded in the confidence that every natural mystery could be solved.”

-P. Condon 1998

In May 1806, snow impeded Lewis and Clark’s eastward return journey across the Bitterroot Mountains, forcing the expedition to camp on the Kooskooske River, near present-day Kamiah, Idaho. Here, Meriwether Lewis secured a new avian species he would name the “Black Woodpecker.” In 1811, from Lewis’s specimens, Alexander Wilson sketched and described the holotype for the bird he named Picus torquatus, “woodpecker with a necklace,” and he formally named the bird in honor of the venerable explorer. Today, the bird Wilson held in his hands rests in the Harvard Museum of Natural History; it is the only biological specimen remaining intact from the epic journey of Lewis and Clark.

Video of Lewis’s Woodpecker by Steve Shunk


Gallery of photos of the Lewis’s Woodpecker by Steve Shunk

Return to List of Species of North American Woodpeckers page.

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