Gila Woodpecker – Captured at the Desert Botanical Garden

This is a story about a man and a bird. The man is me (aka, Sylvester) and the bird is a Gila Woodpecker (aka, Tweety Bird).

We have a hummingbird feeder just beyond our patio which allows us to sit back and enjoy beautiful and crazy birds. We fill it with a water and sugar concoction and wait.  The hummingbirds come, one after another.  After awhile, one particular hummingbird became the “owner” of the feeder and protected it, sometimes viciously. No other hummingbird dared to visit and slurp the slurry.

Then, along came the antagonist in our little story. Being 30 or 40 times larger than the hummingbird, he now gained control of the feeder. He sat there, proud as a peacock, keeping the hummingbirds away. We shooed him away but he came back. We shooed again, but he returned. He carried an air of superiority that got under my NY skin. I couldn’t keep him away, but I had one thing going for me, he couldn’t drink the water. The feeder is designed for hummingbirds, with no way for him to land on it. Undaunted, this bird tried reaching from the pole over to the hanging feeder. No matter how much he stretched to reach, he couldn’t get to the water. Take that, you Darn Bird.

Then one day, Kas noticed the bird had figured out a way to drink the water. He would hold onto the pole, upside down, and crane his neck to position his beak just so. Another of his brethren would just clasp onto the bottom, upside down, and drink away. Beaten, I decided to move on until Kas said, “ why don’t you take a picture of the bird drinking out of the feeder so I can show my sister.” Sure, I said, no problem.

Main Story

I got my camera out, adjusted the settings for wildlife, and waited on the patio for him. No bird. On the plus side, the hummingbirds returned to enjoy their water. Obviously the bird would not attempt a drink while I was in the immediate proximity. I decided to move onto plan B.

I set up my tripod on the patio, positioned my camera, and set the focus point at the feeder. I went inside with my remote trigger and waited. Nothing. No bird at all. That Darn Bird must have been watching me set up the tripod and decided the tripod/camera was too ominous. Or, maybe it was just spiting me. You know how they are. For such a tiny little brain, this Darn Bird was pretty smart. But I was not going to let it beat me. I’m smarter than it, so I thought. On to plan C.

I needed to come up with a setup that would give me more flexibility. I decided to leave the camera in the living room where I could grab it in a second’s notice. An entire day passed without a sighting. It is as if that Darn Bird new what I was doing. While in another room he finally showed himself, slurring away at the feeder. I ran to the camera. By the time I picked it up, turned it on, and opened the door, that Darn Bird flew off. He must have eyed me through our living room windows. On to Plan D.

Plan D and Beyond

I needed more stealth. I decided to try shooting through the glass instead of opening the door. This would save a step and some valuable time. The picture may not end up as nice but I at least I will get “the shot”. I left the camera on a chair by the glass door. Soon that Darn Bird came back and started drinking. I moved slowly to the door, carefully picked up the camera, and it was gone.

Finally, I caught a break. I happened to be right by the camera, which was still by the door. That Darn Bird was there. With his air of superiority returning, he lustily drank away. I kneeled down and picked up my camera, finger on the trigger. Focus and shoot was all that was in my mind. By the time I pressed the shutter, he was off. But I did get a shot of him flying off. You can see the smugness in his wings.

The shot is through a window with reflections from our blinds, but it is finally a shot of that Darn Bird.


Onto Plan E, which is Plan C with a slight modification. This time I set up the tripod inside the house, looking through an open door. I positioned the camera so that it is right in the door jam, hoping the bird will think it is part of the door. I planned on having my remote trigger with me at all times so I can “shoot” the bird from anywhere. (I tried it from my bed to make sure I can get the shot first thing in the morning when he/she drinks the most). A final test was bringing the remote with me into the bathroom. A plan is a plan.

Here is my setup. My camera and tripod are in the house. I have the big lens on to zoom in on my prey. You can see the feeder in the distance.

It’s always a good idea to test the setup. Here is my trigger test (better looking than That Darn Bird).

Luckily, I am given fair warning when That Darn Bird is ready for a drink. It squawks when it reaches the feeder. The time was late afternoon and I was taking my daily nap (was not!) when I heard the all to familiar squawk. Laying in bed I was able to see my prey on the pole just beneath the feeder, inching its way up to its drink. I was patient. I was still. I was stealth. A moment passed. Then it jumped on the feeder for a drink. Rat-atat-tat-tat-tat-tat went my camera. I fired 20 shots in just under two seconds. I ran to my camera to check if the shots came out.

With its claws clinging onto the feeder, That Darn Bird cranes it neck to get to the water.

You can see its mouth open, anticipating its drink.

Sweet victory is mine, all mine. 

Remember, it’s all about the light, Sylvester and Tweety style.

The Rest of the Story (the next day)

After all that effort to shoot that Darn Bird, an extremely rare opportunity arose the next morning. As I was getting ready for my tee time, I heard that squawk. I entered the living room and saw through the windows my prey. And, his accomplice. I walked carefully to the camera setup, picked up the remote, and fired away. For some reason neither bird flinched. I knew they could see me, but nothing. It must be they realized I posed no real threat. They could sit there, drink, and mock me to their little heart’s delight. My sweet victory of yesterday turned into miserable defeat today. Except for one thing. I got the shot.

The female is perched on top as the lookout, allowing the male to sip away.