Rolf Nussbaumer/Vireo

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Picoides scalaris

Conservation status Surveys suggest a slight decline in recent years, but still fairly common and widespread.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Deserts, river woods, groves, dry woods, arid brush. In the United States in dry areas of southwest, including brushland, desert washes, mesquites, riverside trees in prairie country, towns. Moves into adjacent habitats such as oaks and pinyon-juniper stands in foothills, woods on Texas coast. In Central America also in thorn forest, pine-oak woods, even coastal mangroves.
A small woodpecker of arid country. Because of its size, it is able to make a living even in scrubby growth along dry washes (other desert woodpeckers, like Gila Woodpecker and Gilded Flicker, require giant cactus or larger trees for nest sites). Closely related to Nuttall's Woodpecker of the Pacific Coast; their ranges meet in California foothills, and they sometimes interbreed there.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages on trees, shrubs, cacti, tree yuccas, agave stalks, tall weeds, and sometimes on ground. Male and female often forage together, concentrating on different spots: male more on trunks and big limbs, female more on outer twigs, bushes, cacti. (Male is larger than female, with noticeably longer bill.)


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-7) white. Incubation is by both sexes, about 13 days. Young: Both parents feed the young, bringing insects in their bills to the nest. Age when young leave nest not well known.


Young

Both parents feed the young, bringing insects in their bills to the nest. Age when young leave nest not well known.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a variety of insects, including beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, true bugs, ants. Also eats some berries and fruit, including cactus fruit.


Nesting

Pairs may remain more or less together throughout year. Displays (used mostly for territorial defense) include raising head feathers, bobbing and turning head, spreading of wings and tail, fluttering display flight. Nest site is cavity in tree (such as mesquite, hackberry, willow, oak) or in Joshua tree (a yucca) or agave stalk, sometimes in giant cactus, utility pole, fence post. Both sexes probably excavate but male may do most of work. Cavity usually 4-20' above ground, sometimes higher.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range, which extends as far south as Nicaragua.

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Migration

Permanent resident throughout its range, which extends as far south as Nicaragua.

Songs and Calls
A sharp pik, similar to that of Downy Woodpecker; also a descending whinny.