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We have become so accustomed to associating Woodpeckers with big timber, that it strikes us as uncanny to flush a Cactus Woodpecker from a creosote bush at the edge of the desert, and to have it go plinking contentedly from one bit of dwarf vegetation to another. . . . [H]owever much it may forage over the creosote and cholla patches, on occasion, it requires something of more ample girth for a nesting site.
W. L. Dawson, The Birds of California 1923
“Cactus Woodpecker” is an old name for a subspecies of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker inhabiting the southwestern United States. “Cactus” is an appropriate word to associate with this species, as it frequently forages on and nests in various species of cactus. Within its distribution, the Ladder-backed Woodpecker “. . . is the standard small woodpecker of mesquite and cactus lands of the Southwest” (Oberholser 1974: 524). In plumage pattern and overall appearance, this small black-and-white woodpecker with a barred back is very similar to the Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii), but their ranges have little overlap.
Observations on the breeding biology of the Ladder-backed Woodpecker are limited, although many aspects of its biology are undoubtedly similar to those of other Picoides woodpeckers, particularly Nuttall’s Woodpecker. Lester Short’s monograph (1971) on this species provides an extensive, single-source reference as a catalog of behavior and vocalizations. Observations on breeding biology are incidental and superficial rather than results of directed efforts to measure and quantify.