Birds of the Western Slope Jan. 11, 2017

By Evelyn Horn

Birds of the Western Slope Jan. 11, 2017 | Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn,

This Lewis' woodpecker was photographed by Bill Schmoker in Cottonwood Canyon in Baca County.

Lewis' Woodpecker

This is the first serious snow that we've had -- I wish it would go away! I never liked the cold or the snow, but it means water for us in the summer so I'll just have to put up with it. But I can't go anywhere. So I'll just think about my birds.

When we first came to this area, there were woodpeckers . . . lots of them! They make up an interesting group with about 20 species in North America. They range from the 18-inch ivory-billed (likely extinct now) to the downy at just over five inches. But the woodpeckers that were the greatest interest to me were the ones that lived in our cottonwoods, right in front of our window! I noted behavior and then found it described in Mary Taylor Gray's field guides.

Most woodpeckers are solitary nesters, but Lewis' is colonial, with an extended family "owning" a particular tree. In her "Guide to Colorado Birds," Mary's description is delightful: "...a handsome bird that seems to not have read the 'How to be a Woodpecker' handbook. It flies like a crow . . .

doesn't peck into tree bark for food but instead sallies out from a perch to hawk insects in flight like a flycatcher, gleans insects from leaves like a warbler, and breaks nuts into pieces to wedge them in bark crevices like a nuthatch. It's more likely to be seen perched atop a fence post than clinging to the side of a tree like any self-respecting woodpecker should."

And I was able to observe it all! And the greenish-black back is contrasted with a rosy pink breast, a white collar and a dark reddish face patch. A remarkable bird with a strange set of habits and an endless pack of tricks. They/he would take our peanut butter and stuff it into the cottonwood. He'd sit on the phone line (tittering a bit), and give his call (a "cherrrr"). But progress? New folks moved in and I never was able to connect the shotgun and the dead bird. But now they're gone too.

My Lewis' was named for Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Although my birds' colony is gone, I often hear them along Myers Road. I stop to admire and wonder how long it took for the original colony to form.

I do miss them!