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Description of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker


The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is a small woodpecker, with bold black and white barring on the back and wings, a black and white-striped face pattern, and black spotting on the flanks.

Males have a reddish crown.  Length: 7 in.  Wingspan: 13 in.


ladder-backed woodpecker
Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

ladder backed woodpecker male on cactus aw
Photograph © Alan Wilson.


Females have a black crown.


ladder-backed woodpecker

ladder backed woodpecker female on cactus aw
Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adult males, though the red is less extensive.


Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are found in arid brushlands, deserts, and riparian groves.


Ladder-backed Woodpeckers eat primarily insects.


Ladder-backed Woodpeckers forage on a variety of plants, including trees, shrubs, weeds, and cacti.  Like other woodpeckers, they brace themselves against a vertical surface using their stiff tail.


Ladder-backed Woodpeckers occur in the southwestern U.S., south to Central America. The U.S. population has declined in recent decades.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Fun Facts

The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is small and well adapted to make use of scrubby habitats that other woodpeckers would find lacking.

Enterprising students or birders could make valuable contributions to the rather sparse knowledge of breeding biology in this species.


The call is a sharp "pik" similar to that of the Downy Woodpecker.


The nest is a cavity excavated in a tree, large cactus, or fencepost.

Number: Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 13 days, but it is not well known when the young leave the nest.