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Some birds do not urbanize well and others do. Ladder-backed Woodpeckers fall into the second category. These birds, which are at home in the desert, appear to do equally well in Tucson’s urban parks and suburbs. We’ve provided them with habitat by planting trees, especially acacias and mesquites. Ladderbacks make their living by feeding on insects and their larvae that hide under the bark of decayed or dying vegetation. Mesquite trees and acacias, as it turns out, are great for the bugs and the Ladderbacks. These trees have a tendency to self-prune as they age. It’s common to see an otherwise healthy tree with a dead limb or two, and the Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are attracted to those branches.
The other day I encountered a male Ladderback in Ft. Lowell Park, just a few minutes from our home. When I first saw him he was happily pounding away on the rotting trunk of a dead mesquite. I observed him at work for more than half an hour. He never quit his hammering during that time, banging away on the tree while occasionally emitting a sharp one-note call.
A Ladder-backed Woodpecker is the smallest of our local woodpeckers. The black and white horizontal stripes on its back superficially look like a ladder, hence the bird’s name. Males of this species have red caps on their heads. Females look like males except that their caps are black.
These birds are relatively unfazed by humans’ presence. The woodpecker never left his tree as I stood there observing him. That does not mean that they are oblivious to us or are easy to photograph. To the contrary, Ladderbacks seem to delight in tormenting photographers. Not only do they tend to hide among intervening branches, but these birds invariably move to the opposite side of the tree from which the photographer is standing. So, I spent much of my time while I observed this individual hearing him but not seeing him. I’m grateful for the couple of images he afforded me.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/800.