1. English and Scientific names:  Ladder-backed Woodpecker  (Picoides scalaris)


2. Number of individuals, sexes, ages, general plumage: 1, sexed as male by extensive red hindcrown


3. Locality: Cameron Parish


4. Specific Locality: near terminus of Lighthouse Road, X mile 9.5 miles WSW of Johnsons Bayou


5. Date(s) when observed:  5/14/2011

6. Time(s) of day when observed:  ca. 2:30 p.m. – 2:46 p.m.

7. Reporting observer and address: Paul E. Conover

                                                              Lafayette, LA

8. Other observers accompanying reporter who also identified the bird(s):

David Muth, Mac Myers, Dave Patton, Dan Purrington, Curt Sorrells, Phillip Wallace


9. Other observers who independently identified the bird(s):

10. Light conditions (position of bird in relation to shade and to direction and amount of light):

Sunny, bird in sunlight and at a low enough angle to make viewing fine


11. Optical equipment (type, power, condition): worn-in Zeiss 10s, Nikon D50 w/300 mm lens


12. Distance to bird(s): initially perhaps 50 yards in flight, relocated perched at about 20-30 yards, then perhaps 40 yards for 2 subsequent observations

13. Duration of observation:  a few seconds for first 3 sightings, about 45 seconds for my last look, and a few seconds of observation of the bird in flight between perched sightings.  Overall, about a minute. 

14. Habitat:  A few acre patch of hackberry-dominated scrub forest atop high ground, perhaps an old spoil hill, surrounded on all sides by marsh.  The woods in this area were broadly divided into smaller patches by wide mowed trails, and surrounded broadly by open mowed fields.  The largest of the field spaces, between the main woods and the parking lot, had scattered individual trees and a few small clumps of small trees.  Understory thick in wooded areas, with cactus beds and typical vegetation found on marsh spoil banks. 

15. Behavior of bird / circumstances of observation:

I first saw the bird flying along perhaps 50 yards or so away, about 20 feet up, heading SW.  I could see it didn’t have the white dorsal patch of Hairy or Downy, the white wing flash of Red-bellied, or the wing markings of sapsuckers.  It seemed most like Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a species which I considered possible to turn up.  The bird disappeared behind trees and I followed; I was afraid it had kept going.  I luckily found it perched in a tree a few minutes later and snapped a few pictures without looking at the bird through binoculars.  It flew farther W after about 4 seconds (judging by photo time stamps).  It still seemed a good bet for Ladder-backed, so I alerted Dave Patton by phone to help me relocate an ‘odd woodpecker,’ signaled Phillip Wallace and the others that I could see in the distance, and kept looking.  I stumbled on the bird again a few seconds later, snapped a few more photos, and it took off once more. This time the bird reversed its previous course and flew back to the E, past me.  As it flew by, I could see that it was indeed a Ladder-backed, and called it out.  In heading E it headed right toward Dave, Mac, and Dan, who hadn’t made it out of the woods yet.  I heard a loud call of “Ladder-backed Woodpecker” from them, and considered my ID solid.  The bird had flown in calling and landed in sight near Dave, Mac, and Dan.  It dropped out of sight for a few minutes, but after a little searching, Phillip, Curt, and David were also treated to a good look of at least 45 seconds when it flew into the open and landed.  The bird then moved on, once again back to the SW, over the canal, to a distant woodlot.  We walked out as close to those woods as we could and scanned and played tapes, but saw no further sign of it.    


16. Description:


Overall:  Largely black and white woodpecker, noticeably larger than Down Woodpecker.


Dorsally:  Most obvious marking the wavy lateral striping of black and white on the mantle extending all the way up to the nape.  Central rectrices black, pointed.  Outer rectrices distinctly and evenly barred black and white. 


Ventrally:  Underparts white, but not overall gleaming white; somewhat dingy.  Flanks weakly spotted/speckled in rows.


Head:  Ground color white. Black central nape stripe.  Blackish forecrown with bright red mid- and hind-crown.  Anterior edge of red crown about even with eye.  White speckles mixed into red of crown.  Auriculars dusky/blackish but not strongly patterned; blackish color distributed in somewhat wispy pattern.  Malar stripe distinct and extending back about as far as the posterior edge of the auriculars; color same as auriculars.  Auriculars and malar stripe separated by white stripe about the same thickness as the auriculars.  Dusky speckling extending from rear edge of malar stripe down onto sides of upper breast, and light dusky speckling between rear edges of auriculars and malar stripe.  This dusky speckling seemed to trace out the pattern of the hind stripe connecting auriculars and malar and running onto breast typically found on this species.  Tuft above base of bill pale yellowish or buffy. 


Eyes dark. Rear edge of eyes joined by fore edge of black face patch of auriculars. Eye somewhat distinct from ear patch, not surrounded by it.       

17. Voice:  My hearing is suspect on normal days, and was made very much worse by a sinus infection.  I can’t honestly recall if I heard it call at any time before the group sighting, and at that time, recordings were being played to entice it in.  I couldn’t have told the bird from the recordings at that point. 

18. Similar species (include how they were eliminated by your observation):

Back striping eliminates Downy and Hairy.  Overall mantle pattern eliminates sapsuckers.  Face pattern, etc., eliminates Red-bellied.  The suite of characters present limits it to Ladder-backed or Nuttall’s among woodpeckers of the United States.  Face pattern and distribution of mantle striping onto upper mantle eliminates Nuttall’s.  Hybrids between Ladder-backed and non-Nuttall’s woodpecker apparently extremely infrequent and of negligible probability, and all field marks fall within normal reported range of variability for Ladder-backed. 


I cannot comment on woodpecker species found outside of the United States due to lack of knowledge. 


19. Photographs or tape recordings obtained? (by whom? attached?):  Photos were taken by at least several of the observers, video with audio was shot by Wallace.  All hard documentation will be attached to the record.

20. Previous experience with this species: I used to bird in the range of this species fairly often, and thus used to encounter Ladder-backs fairly regularly, but I hadn’t seen one in over a decade prior to this sighting.

21. Identification aids:  After the sighting, we compared photos to several guides to confirm our sightings.  I also spent a lot of time looking for information on potential hybrids.

22. This description is written from: notes committed to memory while observing the bird, and comparison of these notes to the photographs viewed afterwards.  Photos obviously revealed finer detail than I was able to observe during the sighting. 


23. Are you positive of your identification if not, explain:  Yes. 

24. Report Date:  May 17, 2011