A Personal Photo First: The Hairy Woodpecker

by Bryce W. Robinson


Not too many mornings ago, I found myself in a mountain home, overlooking a mountain valley, admiring the mountain birds. The home had a large window array on its back end, providing healthy viewing of flitting and such from a host of active birds. Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees sped from tree to tree, about their business. A group of Pine Siskin came and went, and came again. Red-breasted Nuthatches twitched about, nervously checking needles and limbs for food. It was a mountain morning, full of light and life.

The arrival of a woodpecker is always celebrated. Watching from the windows, I saw a black and white bird traveling the trees. This bird was the Downy Woodpecker, a common, but celebrated sight. While watching the small woodpecker, I noticed another. Larger, and about its own business, was the Hairy Woodpecker. Having both in my view was of value. Seemingly identical, it is helpful to watch both at once, bouncing back and forth, analyzing minute differences that set each apart. After you know each bird well, the identification becomes second nature, and the large, long billed Hairy is unmistakable.

This Hairy stayed with me a while. It was intent upon chiseling at the trees to uncover its morning meal. Recognizing a relatively stationary subject among the hustle and bustle of the mountain passerines, I grabbed my camera and went to work,documenting the activity of the Hairy. One thing that has always puzzled me is the mechanics of the drumming woodpecker. How does it prevent damaging its brain while it taps and slams at trees? While pondering this I did notice something, not really remarkable, and rather obvious. Still, I find it neat. Every time the bird strikes the tree it closes its nictitating membrane, shielding its eye from wood shavings.

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The Hairy Woodpecker kept about for minutes. I kept at it with my camera as well. It traveled from tree to tree, checking here, picking there, searching and finding and then back at the search again. At times it would check about for any watchers or threats. At these times I caught endearing images of an inquisitive but very serious bird.

Minutes passed and the Hairy Woodpecker flew from view. I then turned back to watch the other birds about their business. I envy those of that mountain home. They have the view, with a back deck overlooking the mountainside. Surrounded by trees, there is no shortage of birds that flit about. I had a terribly fun morning watching, and taking my camera to whatever I saw.

The experience with the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, foraging side by side, gave me an Idea for an illustration. I have actually felt the desire to do many illustrations comparing like species such as these two Picids. Perhaps soon I will begin a series to highlight like species and discuss similarities and differences between the two. It would surely help me learn many things.