Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (Picoides scalaris) are fairly common, year-round residents here in southeastern Arizona, especially in areas of desertscrub with larger mesquite trees and in riparian areas like mesquite bosques. These small woodpeckers are also less commonly found in oak woodlands here. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers range from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico down to Nicaragua.

Around midday on July 4, 2007, I observed this male Ladder-backed Woodpecker below pecking around on an already well-pecked Eucalyptus tree here in Tucson, Arizona. The high temperature that day was 110 °F (43.3 °C), so this woodpecker and the other birds were panting to cool themselves in the oppressive midday heat.

Male Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) on well-pecked Eucalyptus bark

Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are dingy white below and have a black and white-barred back and wings, a mostly black tail with black-barred white outer tail feathers, and a white face with a distinctive, curving, black eye-line and malar (beak to cheek) stripe that join together well behind the eye. Males like this one have a red crown patch, while the females have a black one.

Male Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) on well-pecked Eucalyptus bark

No other woodpecker found here in southeastern Arizona has a white face with joined, black eye and malar stripes. The similar-looking Nuttall's Woodpeckers (Picoides nuttallii) do have them, but these woodpeckers are not found here. Where the ranges of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers and Nuttall's Woodpeckers overlap in California, these two species can be distinguished by the black markings on their white outer tail feathers. The white outer tail feathers of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are barred with black, while those of Nuttall's Woodpeckers are spotted with black.