Ladder-backed Woodpecker

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Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Dryobates scalaris
  • ORDER: Piciformes
  • FAMILY: Picidae
Basic Description

When traveling through the scattered cactus and mesquite of the arid southwestern U.S., it’s difficult to believe that these almost treeless habitats are home to woodpeckers. But the Ladder-backed (once known as the “Cactus Woodpecker”) is an attractive dweller of deserts, desert scrub, and thorn forests. It can also be found in pinyon pine and pinyon-juniper forest. Like many small dwellers of arid habitats, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers can be inconspicuous and quiet, requiring a bit of time and patience to find. Their small size and agility make them deft foragers among the thorns and spines of plants like cholla, mesquite, and prickly pear.

More ID Info
image of range map for Ladder-backed WoodpeckerRange map provided by Birds of North AmericaExplore Maps

Find This Bird

To find a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, plan an early morning outing, ideally between late January and March when pairs establish their bonds and defend territories. The birds are most vocal then, and their antic behaviors can be delightful to watch. Look for them in clusters of cholla, Joshua trees, juniper, willow, or honey mesquite. Listen carefully for their peek call, descending rattle, or quick drumming, as these birds can be easily overlooked in the quiet of a hot desert day.

Other Names
  • Pico Mexicano (Spanish)
  • Pic arlequin (French)

Backyard Tips

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers may come for mealworms offered at feeding stations; they have also been observed eating peanut butter and black oil sunflower seeds. In the northern parts of the range, suet feeders sometimes attract them. To attract a nesting pair, try growing native vegetation and leave dead trees standing when possible; this species does not typically use nest boxes.

  • Cool Facts