Performance Art

A female Gila woodpecker is in freefall after she has jumped out of her nest but before she spreads her wings to fly, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker is for the briefest of moments in free fall after jumping from her nest in a saguaro. It took me a while to notice this behavior, everything happens so quickly when they enter and leave the nest, and took even longer before I could find the right conditions to photograph it. It looks rather unnatural when frozen in time, one foot still sticking out below her while her wings are tucked up tight, but the nest is high off the ground so even though the fall is brief she has plenty of time to put a little distance between herself and her sharp-spined home before throwing out her wings.

Brace For Impact

A female Gila woodpecker flies to her nest with a moth in her beak, raising her legs and preparing to throw out her wings, on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker, the mate of the male in the previous picture, prepares to land at the nest with a moth in her beak. They fly in at full speed, throwing up their legs and flaring their wings at the last moment, it’s a delight to watch.

Yellow Belly

A male Gila woodpecker carries an insect in his beak as he flies in with his wings spread to his nest in a saguaro along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A Gila woodpecker lands at his nest in a saguaro, carrying an insect (maybe a grasshopper?) in his beak, about to feed his hungry babies inside. I love their yellow bellies, both males and females have them. There are a handful in our backyard as I write this from the porch but this flying fellow is from the spring, taken on the Latigo Trail.

Morning Makeup

A male Gila woodpecker holds a freshly caught moth in his bill, his face dusted in pollen from saguaro flowers, as he clings to the saguaro where his nest is, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

I took a couple of days off work last week but it wasn’t to do anything fun, I was laid low by a cold and didn’t feel much like getting off the couch. I was watching some Gila woodpeckers in the backyard with my binoculars and something felt off, I couldn’t figure out what at first until I realized their faces were the same color as their heads. I had been editing pictures from the spring, like this male holding a freshly caught moth, and was used to seeing them with their faces dusted yellow from the pollen of saguaro flowers.

Blue

A male Gila woodpecker peeks out of his nest in a saguaro in the blue light before sunrise along the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2019

On that April morning we were up before the sun, he and I, one to mend a broken heart, one to feed his hungry children. Ordinarily I would have loved to watch the comings and goings of this Gila woodpecker and his mate as morning broke but Ellie had died a week earlier and standing still meant being alone with my thoughts, a place I was not yet ready to be. I quickly moved on but with each passing week I was able to slow down more and more until I could happily stay in the moment for as long as my heart desired.