Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

Dryobates scalaris
Range Map

The Ladder-Backed Woodpecker is resident from the American Southwest from the Mojave Desert in California, east across southern Arizona and New Mexico, and into Texas. Found year-round wherever they live, these birds are common from the southwest USA and southward over much of Mexico. Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers closely associate with cactus for both foraging and nesting, though we find them in riparian-desert margins too.

Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers are closely related to Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, but there are differences (see <this link> for details). The ranges for these birds seldom overlap, though when working with the San Diego Natural History team near Campo in eastern San Diego County, we found both birds in the valley where we were surveying the fauna.

Today, taxonomists recognise nine subspecies of Ladder-Backed Woodpecker. All are non-migratory:

  • D. s. cactophilus lives in southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, southeastern Colorado, west Oklahoma, and west Texas south into northwestern Mexico and on the Central Mexican Plateau.
  • D. s. eremicus lives in northwestern Baja California (Mexico).
  • D. s. lucasanus lives in southern Baja California and on several islands in the Gulf of California.
  • D. s. soulei lives on Cerralvo Island, in southern Baja California (Mexico).
  • D. s. graysoni lives on Tres Marias Islands, Sinaloa (Mexico).
  • D. s. sinaloensis lives in western Mexico from Sonora south to Oaxaca.
  • D. s. scalaris lives on the Gulf slope of eastern Mexico from Tamaulipas south to Chiapas.
  • D. s. parvus lives in Mexico on the northern Yucatan Peninsula.
  • D. s. leucoptilurus lives on the Gulf slope of Central America.

I’ve been lucky on more than one occasion when capturing images of Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers. Locations such as Sabino Canyon near Tucson (Arizona) and Havasu NWR (also Arizona) provided images I’m pleased with. But it was along the Nueces River in Texas that gave me what I feel were my best captures of these diminutive woodpeckers. Maybe it was the soft, warm light. Perhaps was an especially cooperative bird, but I like the images that came from that March day in 2020 as I was getting acquainted with Texas for the first time.

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