Woodpeckers à la Audubon

By Joel Sartore
From the Summer 2016 issue of Living Bird magazine.
Red-headed Woodpeckers by Joel Sartore
Red-headed Woodpeckers by Joel Sartore.

When it comes to wildlife art, my hero is John James Audubon. He was among the first painters to portray birds in their natural habitat, which was revolutionary at the time. So when National Geographic asked me for a photo essay on animal migrations in North America, I wanted to show a few birds from Lancaster County, Nebraska, where I live. To emulate Audubon, the images would need to be intimate, well-lit, and give the viewer a real sense of place. My friends at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center identified a Red-headed Woodpecker nest near the visitor center, so these birds were quite tolerant of humans. We mounted a small, quiet camera near the nest cavity and fired it remotely using a radio trigger. Though this portrait doesn’t come close to Audubon’s masterful work, I hope it at least provides an unusual look at a bird that is usually shy and reclusive.

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