Saturday, February 02, 2008

Birds-in-Flight: Downy Woodpecker

After last Sunday's post, amanda in the city commented that she enjoyed the blue jay and chickadee in flight. So, over the next few posts, I'll show the better photos from my 'birds in flight' collection.
We start with the downy woodpecker. We provide as a reference this first photo, where this male downy is in his normal (photographed) position - attached to the side of a tree.
In the second photo, the downy is in flight - leaving one of the suet feeders (note the suet in his beak). This photo not only shows the white spots on the extended wings, but also shows shape of the wings. Of course, the wings are simply a collection of individual feathers. In this 'birds in flight' collection, I am constantly amazed to see the individual feathers working together to achieve flight.
The third photo captures the downy in, what I call, glide position - wings are slightly extended, but tucked; body and tail are in a tight line to minimize drag as gravity is providing the force. This glide begins typically by the downy simply falling off of the branch, but the destination is always at a lower height than the starting position.
Most times, the downy, and most of birds, start flight by combination of wing extension and downstroke with the legs pushing off. I think this looks like what athletes call a standing broad jump.
This last photo reminds us that once in flight, the bird needs to continue to keep his wings in montion. This last photo shows the wings at the bottom of the down stroke - where the wing tips end up well below the line of the body. Of course, the stroke began with the wing tips above the body.

This last photo fails to capture the true nature of woodpecker flight, which is undulating. As Wikipedia says, "The repeated cycle of a quick succession of flaps followed by a pause creates an effect comparable to a rollercoaster." These flight characteristics create multiple problems in getting any photo, yet alone a reasonably good one. I'll talk more about photographing birds in flight in a future post.

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