The Cornell University Ornithology Department recently commended the Central Colorado Conservancy for its work protecting the Lewis’ woodpecker in Chaffee and Fremont counties.

Conservancy Executive Director Andrew Mackie said the organization received a $5,000 grant from Cornell a few years ago, which they used to train residents to submit Lewis’ woodpecker sightings to the online database eBird.

The program resulted in 150 Lewis’ woodpecker sightings in the area, according to a conservancy press release.

With Cornell’s help, Mackie said, the conservancy could tag all the Lewis’ woodpecker data entries in the area, take the information and put it into a geographic information system.

From there, Mackie said, the conservancy could overlay things like public lands and parcel data to determine good spots to focus on Lewis’ woodpecker conservation and develop priorities for land protection.

Mackie said that process takes time, and the conservancy is just starting to put entries into a geographic information system.

The conservancy trained a little more than 70 people, Mackie said, and others entered data on their own.

They chose the Lewis’ woodpecker because it’s a bigger bird and is fairly easy to see because of its brightness, he said. It also only lives in western North America, and distribution is patchy. Mackie said the Lewis’ woodpecker population has declined about 75 percent in recent decades,

Lewis’ woodpeckers use mostly older cottonwood trees in riparian habitats in this area, Mackie said, because those trees are easier for them to make cavities in.

The birds eat seeds, nuts and insects, helping to control insect populations, and their cavities are used by other birds and small mammals after the woodpeckers have left.

Two conservancy projects are moving forward, in part because of nesting Lewis’ woodpeckers on the properties, including one 500-acre ranch in Chaffee County.

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