For the first time in recent memory a flock of Lewis’s Woodpeckers has taken up residence near Colorado Springs. Only 11 miles south of Colorado Springs, they are busy harvesting acorns in the picnic area at Fort Carson’s Turkey Creek Recreation Area. These uncommon (at least along the Front Range) woodpeckers are attracting every birder in town. A couple of friends and I made our migration at dawn two weeks ago, hauling binoculars, spotting scopes, and at least 50 pounds of camera gear. We weren’t disappointed.
The woodpeckers were easy to find as they flew from tree to tree. Their flight is much slower than that of other woodpecker species, resembling that of a crow, and their dark green, white, and rose coloring is unique.
Some of the birds were grabbing flying insects on the wing, a practice known as “hawking.” Most were busy harvesting acorns from the abundant Gambel’s oaks. They would then retreat to the top-most branches of the towering elms to hammer the acorns open. It appeared that many birds were stashing extras for later use, a curious behavior in a species not noted for wintering in El Paso county. While these woodpeckers don’t migrate in the traditional sense, they do spend the winter congregated in the warmer areas of their range (western U.S. and British Columbia). No one knows if this flock will be here tomorrow, much less next month.
Males and females have similar plumage. Immature birds are easy to spot, as they lack the rose and white that makes the adults so pretty. The high percentage of immature birds we saw made us wonder if they had also nested in the area, but we didn’t notice any nest cavities.
Lewis’s Woodpeckers weren’t the only birds we enjoyed that morning. Western Bluebirds were acting almost like flycatchers, perching on exposed branches and sallying out to nab insects on the ground. Scrub Jays were attracted to the same acorn crop as the woodpeckers, and were stuffing them into their beaks two or three at a time. A small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted around some apple trees. At one point an unidentified Accipiter caused a panic among the smaller birds.
At the end of the morning, we crossed the highway for a short hike across in the Nature Conservancy’s Aiken Canyon, where we picked up a few additional species. Among them was a pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers. That seemed especially fitting—both the Lewis’s Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcrackers were named after the famous explorers, who were the first Europeans to describe each species.
If you wish to visit the woodpeckers, please contact the Facility Mnager at Turkey Creek Ranch, Stephanie Kowaluk, 719.524.1403, to let her know you are coming. She would also appreciate a list of species you see while there. For more information on Aiken Canyon, click here.