Family Woodpeckers (Picidae)

Least Concern

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris)


French: Pic arlequin German: Texasspecht Spanish: Pico mexicano

Picus scalaris


, 1829,

central Veracruz, Mexico


Most closely related to D. nuttallii (with which it occasionally hybridizes) and D. pubescens, and all three previously placed in genus Picoides; DNA analyses indicate relationship also with D. minor, this strongly supported by recent molecular study#R. Has possibly interbred with Leuconotopicus villosus. Considerable individual and some clinal variation; described races symplectus (SE Colorado and W Oklahoma S to NE Mexico), centrophilus (W Mexico), azelus (S Mexico), giraudi (EC Mexico), ridgwayi (SE Veracruz) and percus (Chiapas), and several others, all regarded as indistinguishable from existing races. Nine subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • D. s. cactophilus Oberholser, 1911 – SW USA (from SE California, S Nevada, SW Utah, SE Colorado, W Oklahoma and W Texas) S to NE Baja California and S in C Mexico to Michoacán and Puebla.
  • D. s. eremicus Oberholser, 1911 – N Baja California.
  • D. s. lucasanus (Xántus, 1860) – S Baja California.
  • D. s. soulei (Banks, 1963) – Cerralvo I, off SE Baja California
  • D. s. sinaloensis Ridgway, 1887 – coastal W Mexico from S Sonora S to Guerrero, SW Puebla and CS Oaxaca.
  • D. s. graysoni (S. F. Baird, 1874) – Tres Marías Is, off W Mexico.
  • D. s. scalaris (Wagler, 1829) – Veracruz to Tabasco and Chiapas.
  • D. s. parvus (S. Cabot, 1844) – N Yucatán Peninsula, including Cozumel I and Holbox I.
  • D. s. leucoptilurus Oberholser, 1911 – Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador to NE Nicaragua; recently found in Isla Juan Venado Reserve, NW Nicaragua#R.
  • Descriptive notes

    18 cm; 21–48 g, mostly 25–41 g. Male has buffish forehead, black forecrown with broad red feather tips, red central crown to nape, narrowly black hindneck; broad... read more


    Single “peek”, often repeated in alarm; accelerating series e.g. “cheekeekeekeekeekikk”, dropping... read more


    Very arid country and deserts; open to semi-open woodland and woods along (seasonally dry) rivers,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly insects, some other arthropods. Larvae and adults of beetles; also caterpillars, ants and hemipterans. Also takes fruit. Forages... read more


    Laying recorded Mar–Jul, normally Apr–Jun. Flutter-aerial display and other typical di­splays. Nest excavated at c. 1... read more


    Resident and sedentary.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common in USA; common to fairly common in Mexico. Estimated density 1·15 birds/40 ha in one study area in S California. Long-term... read more

    Recommended citation

    Winkler, H. & Christie, D.A. (2019). Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 12 December 2019).