Red-naped Sapsucker In An Unusual Takeoff Pose

It’s impossible for me to look at this image without thinking of the sapsucker as a Winter Olympics competitor.

This past week I spent many hours photographing a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers as they fed a single chick in the nest cavity in Idaho’s Targhee National Forest. I was able to document several interesting behaviors and I learned a lot about bird photography in challenging conditions. Overall my experience with these birds was just down and dirty hard work – conditions were uncomfortably hot, the lighting situation at the nest tree was maddening and extremely frustrating and the concentration required over long periods of time in order to be “ready” for a brief and unannounced appearance of one of the sapsuckers was physically draining. In some ways I wasn’t having a lot of fun.

But this image brought some comic relief when I looked at it on my camera screen.


1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 1600, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This sapsucker had been foraging for ants and other insects along a dead branch on the nest tree and I happened to snap my shutter just as it began to take off with its beak full of goodies for the chick. I caught the bird pushing off but before it opened its wings. Unlike some other bird species sapsuckers don’t telegraph their intentions to take off and they do it so fast that human reflexes typically aren’t quick enough to capture the action so I was just lucky to catch this unusual pose (which I adore).

I can’t help but think of a human ski jumper every time I look at this photo. The forward-leaning posture of the body, the straightening legs for the push-off and the arms (wings) clamped tightly against the body all remind me of the posture of a ski jumper just as he/she is about to leave the ramp and fly through the air. I even cropped the image for a composition that includes more of the sloping “ski jump ramp” (the tree branch) in a deliberate attempt to enhance that illusion.

Most of my shots of these birds are serious documentations of behavior but I love this one “just for fun”…


PS – We arrived back home from our camping trip yesterday afternoon. We had a marvelous time in Montana and Idaho for almost six days – as usual the scenery was spectacular, the birds numerous (if not always cooperative) and the temps were much cooler than here in Salt Lake City. It usually takes me at least two days to “recover” from these trips and there’s many chores around home I got behind on while I was gone. In addition I have thousands of images from the trip to review and cull and that’s going to take me a while.

It’s time to pay the piper…




29 comments to Red-naped Sapsucker In An Unusual Takeoff Pose

  • Chris Sanborn

    Ha! The others say Eddie the Eagle, I say The Flying Tomato (I’ve always been a big fan of Shaun White, speaking of Olympic stars)! Love the image, especially knowing how hard you had to work to get it. Sorry to be so late to this party, I had to buy a new laptop today and Windows 10 is KILLING me! So, back to the tablet in the morning, although I have to admit, this nice big screen is really great for viewing your images, so … we’ll see.

    • Laura Culley

      Chris attack Windows 10 as if it’s evil and out to get you (and lose your stuff) because it is. Approaching it from that context makes it a little easier because you’re expecting it to get you so you’re kinda ready. Oh and I’d suggest you hide all your hammers and sharp objects in that SAFE place where you’ll never find them again. Just sayin’ 🙂

      • Chris Sanborn

        Clearly you’ve been here before me … I spent the entire day trying to get everything cleaned up and set up so it’s actually useful … only to have it do an update at 5:30 tonight and UNDO practically every change I’d made. I submitted some *extremely* unkind “feedback” to Microsoft. And am considering exchanging the miserable thing for a Mac tomorrow …. 🙄

  • Love the image. And am so glad you had a restorative, difficult, frustrating, exhausting, WONDERFUL time.
    Aren’t we lucky that there are no cross-species Olympics. There would be no medals for us. None. Nada. Zip.

    • Laura Culley

      HAHAHA EC! Ain’t that the truth! My neighbor’s daughter was chasing her dog yesterday. REALLY? He’s got four-paw drive. You don’t. You can’t win this UNLESS the dog chooses to LET you win. Otherwise…LOL!

  • Alice Beckcom

    The sapsucker pose reminded me of a skier and it also reminded me of a swimmer on the diving board as well as a track runner.

    I spent a little time looking for a flag that is black, white and red. I found the flag of Trinidad/Tobago had those colors so perhaps the sapsucker is representing those countries. A crazy idea, but had fun exploring.

    Great photo, Ron, and thanks. Welcome home to a ‘warmer’ place.

  • Absolutely looks like a ski jump!

    I’d love, if it isn’t too much work, a post featuring some culled images and the reasons why. I love learning!

    • I’ll have to think about that one, Arwen. But the reasons why would be pretty typical of reason’s you’re already aware of. Things like soft subjects, no catch lights, poor light angle, cut off body parts, poor composition, the list goes on….

  • Laura Culley

    What a wonderful image and thank the heavens for the serendipitous capture! I love the ski jumper analogy, too. Yep, it fits! And the definition of serendipitous is that point where preparation meets opportunity 🙂
    Really looking forward to the rest of the photos from your most recent adventure, but remember, naps are GOOD! In the meantime, I’ll practice my patience 🙂

  • Linda Civey

    Great capture. I’ve gotten lucky on a few. Their bodies look like a feathered bullet😝

  • Susan Stone

    This shot is absolutely priceless. It is clearly a skier ready to start downhill, with or without the jump. The shot is definitely good pay for all the hard work you put in. Welcome home!

    • Susan, In bird photography we work hard to get those few shots we like and as you say the payoff can make all the effort worthwhile. If I follow my usual pattern I’ll probably delete about 95% of the shots I took on this trip so those few keepers mean a lot. Thank you.

  • April Olson

    Great pose capture. I frequently notice passerines launch downward like torpedoes to gain speed then spread out their wing like a parachute and start flapping to gain altitude.

    Funny note: the spell check on your site about birds does not like the word passerines.

  • Marty K

    I immediately thought of ski jumping and Eddie the Eagle when I saw the pose. The cropping really helps bring that thought home. Hood ornament also makes sense, now that I think about it — it would look good on your truck. 🙂 It looks like he might have picked up a bit of spider web too, which makes me think he’d stuck that pose for quite a while.

    I’m sorry to hear that the week carried a lot of frustration. I was really hoping it would be a wonderful respite. I don’t envy you the culling process, but I hope your itchy trigger finger goes easy. 😉

    • Marty, Yep, that’s spider web but the bird sure as heck wasn’t sticking around. This action was incredibly fast and I was lucky to catch it.

      Don’t get me wrong – despite the frustrations I had a wonderful time up there. And challenges in photography (and almost every other skill worth learning) is part of how we improve.

  • Reminds me also of a gymnast at the “take-off” point of a floor routine……..loved it…….what a fine catch !

    • Yup, a gymnast at that point of their routine works too. Someone else on FB suggested the pose was reminiscent of a hood ornament on a classic car. Thanks, Kris.

  • Patty Chadwick

    That is the PERFECT title for this funny, funny photo!!! We alway watch the skiers, including the ski jumpers and that’s exactly what this looks like…We’ve had Eddie the Eagle…now we have Eddie the Sapsucker!!! May he fly far!!! Glad your trip was good,, Welcome home….

  • Nikonsteve

    Really cool shot Ron,….the skiing pose….I like it!

  • Judy Gusick

    Neat!:) The sapsucker does look like a ski jumper for sure. Glad the trip was good even if you’re exhausted. Don’t envy you the photo editing chore ahead of you – pay the piper indeed!

    • Thanks, Judy. The photo-culling chore ahead of me is a depressing thought. The only thing worse would be not having any images to cull… 🙂