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Ladder-backed Woodpecker - BirdForum Opus

Male D. s. cactophilus
Photo © by Stanley Jones
Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas, USA, April 2019
Dryobates scalaris

Picoides scalaris; Dendrocopos scalaris; Picus scalaris


Female D. s. cactophilus
Photo © by bobsofpa
Ash Canyon, Arizona, USA, 29 April 2010

16.5 to 19 cm (6½ to 7½ inches) in length
Straight black bill

  • Black and white, barring on back and wings
  • Black spotted, white underparts and rump

Adult males

  • Red crown to nape (smaller in immatures)
  • Buff forehead
  • Black forecrown with red feather tips

Adult female has a black crown

Similar Species

Nuttall's Woodpecker is similar but darker with broader dark bars across back and face.


South-western United States, Mexico, and Nicaragua.



There are 8 subspecies[1]:

  • D. s. cactophilus:
  • Arid south-western US to north-eastern Baja California and central Mexico
  • D. s. eremicus:
  • Northern Baja California
  • D. s. lucasanus:
  • Southern Baja California
  • D. s. soulei:
  • Cerralvo Island, southern Baja California
  • D. s. graysoni:
  • Tres Marías Islands (off western Mexico)
  • D. s. sinaloensis:
  • Coastal western Mexico (southern Sonora to Guerrero, south-western Puebla, western Oaxaca)
  • D. s. scalaris:
  • Southern Mexico (Veracruz and Chiapas)
  • D. s. parvus:
  • North Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel Island and Holbox Island
  • D. s. leucoptilurus:


Deserts and open woodland in very dry areas; also woods along seasonally dry water courses.



They nest in cavities excavated in tree trunks. Their clutch contains 2 to 7 plain white eggs which are incubated by both adults.


Their diet consists mostly of insects, invertebrates and their larva, such as beetles, caterpillars and ants; they also eat some fruit.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2021. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2021. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Avibase
  3. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive (retrieved May 2019)

Recommended Citation

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