Photographing My Local Nesting Birds

Dear Friends,

I hope you have been having a nice spring and relishing the new life all around us here in the Northern Hemisphere.  These past two springs, due to the pandemic, I have been traveling less than usual, and focusing my lenses on more local projects.  One of those has been a filming project with Connecticut-based Coneflower Studios to document the lives of woodpeckers and their importance in the ecosystem.  Did you know that woodpeckers create cavities that are used by over forty species of birds for nesting just in North America?  While working on the film project, which is now going into post-production, I was also able to capture some still photos.  

Stay tuned here, and I’ll let you know when the film is coming out.  In the mean time, I’ve selected a few stills below to share.  I had never spent much effort to observe or photograph the pileated woodpecker before this, but this impressive bird has now become one of my local favorites.  Hope you enjoy the shots below!

The Ant Specialist

The pileated woodpecker, our largest woodpecker in North America (assuming the ivory-billed woodpecker is indeed extinct), is rather surprisingly, an ant specialist.  Although the prey are small, they are abundant, and the pileated’s powerful size allows it to excavate deep into trees where its favorite carpenter ants make their large colonies.  I’m lucky enough to have these birds occupying the woods right behind my house in Lexington, Massachusetts, and one day my daughter spotted this male working on a dead tree right from the house.  I grabbed my camera and started photographing, gradually and very deliberately moving my tripod closer and closer.  Within about 30 minutes, the bird was still busy excavating multiple holes in the same tree and feeding, and tolerated my presence close enough to get this shot with an 800 mm lens.  I knew he was eating ants, but because the bird was using its long tongue to probe the tunnels, and bringing the ants directly into its mouth, I never saw him with an ant until this one moment, when he leaned back, and one ant that almost got away dangled from his beak!

The Cavity Nesters

Woodpeckers excavate cavities in dead trees for roosting and nesting, but they are not the only birds that use them.  Abandoned woodpecker holes are used by many other species as well, so they play a particularly important role in the community of birds.  All the images below were made not far from my home in Massachusetts.

When pileated woodpecker chicks reach a certain size, they stick their little heads out of their nest cavity and beg loudly when a parent approaches with food, making for a pretty entertaining scene.

I found a pair of bluebirds nesting in this small woodpecker hole in a dead white birch tree along the edge of a beaver pond.  Here you see the male delivering a caterpillar to the chicks.

This pair of shots shows the changing of the guard as the two parents swap incubation duties at their nest.  These tree swallows are nesting in a tree cavity that I hollowed out myself.  I think birds take even more readily to nest boxes made out of hollow logs than the more typical ones made from boards.

 Barred owls like these also often nest in tree cavities as well.  This is not necessarily a woodpecker hole, but who knows, perhaps this rotted out hollow in the tree could have started from a large excavation by a Pileated Woodpecker many years ago!

Thanks for tuning in to my adventures, and stay tuned.  Soon, I’m heading off to Borneo after a nearly three year break, and I’ll be sharing updates on my social channels!  

Stay safe everyone, and be sure to get your dose of nature therapy!

Warmest regards,

Tim Laman

PS.  We are partnering with the Aves Gallery to showcase some of my very large format, Limited Edition, Bird-of-Paradise prints at the Ketchum Art Festival, from July 8-10 in Sun Valley, Idaho.  If you are curious about my Limited Edition Birds-of-Paradise prints, you can learn more HERE.