Leave my noms alone!

Bird altercations over food seems to be a theme lately at the Readers’ Wildlife Photography desk. This contribution comes from (surprise!) reader Stephen Barnard from Idaho. Here are his notes and photos (I’ve added the species names, click photos to enlarge):

The male is an American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in prebreeding colors, and I think the female is a Goldfinch, too. Female finches of different species look similar. I took this photo from inside my house. There are dozens of birds at my feeders — Goldfinches, Chickadees, House Finches, Eurasian Collared Doves, and (increasingly) Red-winged Blackbirds.

For the technically minded: 500mm, ISO 2000, f/8, 1/8000 sec.


And as lagniappe, a nomming hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus), also from Stephen. Look at that beak and those toes—that’s a drilling machine!

RT9A9590 - Version 2


  1. Hempenstein
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    A hairy wp on an aspen tree.

  2. Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photographs!

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    The female finch is actually a House Finch. At first I thought the woodpecker was a Downy, but my hard-core birder friends set me straight.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      Yes, even female goldfinches have the distinctive light wing pattern of the male.

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        Yes to both of you.

      • JohnJay
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        And the house finch has that dappled streaking on head and back; goldfinches don’t.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Yep, Hairy’s have longer beaks, distinguishing them in closeups like this shot, which I only recently got into my head.

      Further, with that distinction you’d think that this might be another example of close relatives like with Darwin’s finches, but it seems that the two are quite distant, as now judged also by DNA evidence. And with that, all the more interesting that they look so similar.

      All of which reminds me that I’m really envious of Europeans with their green woodpeckers. Would any of you there have some shots of those that they’d like to send our host?

  4. JBlilie
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Nice ones Stephen and thanks for sharing (and the techincal data)!

  5. Thanny
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    At my feeder, there’s a white-breasted nuthatch which sometimes puts on a threat display to the other denizens, including birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

    I never got a shot of it, but there’s a video on YT that shows it pretty well. Cracked me up the first time I saw it:


  6. Steven Obrebski
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Is that woodpecker the Kalashnikov of the bird world? Effective at short distances and easy to reload?

  7. bornabadger
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Great photos. Especially love that first shot!

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s it! I’m getting a 5D MkIII. Your high ISO has convinced me!

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      You won’t regret it, Diana. This photo was taken in poor light.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I’ve been unhappy with the pictures from my feeder — too much noise and an ISO of only 400!

    • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      ISO 2000 is high?


      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        When I know I want f/8 and 1/8000, like with that finch shot, I set the ISO to get it. I’ve heard from people with Canon cameras other than the 5D3 that ISO 2000 is pretty bad, but it’s fine on the 5D3.

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink


          The noise on the 5DIII at ISO 2000 isn’t even visible except when pixel-peeping, and even then it’s very film-like and not at all objectionable. Landscape photography at ISO 8000 is very doable with some careful post-processing. If I were shooting action in really bad light, I would go to ISO 16,000 before compromising shutter speeds.



          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Here’s a “moonset” at ISO 25600. Not a great photo — just testing the limits of the camera.


            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              That’s very representative of extreme ISO on the 5DIII.

              It’s not something you’d make a big print of, but it’s perfectly suited to Web or newspaper usage, and you could probably get an acceptable 8″ x 10″ print out of it with a bit of skilled work. If it’s a (legitimate) picture of Obama shaking hands with Gort as he says, “Klaatu barada nikto”, on the White House Lawn, it’ll get you a Pulitzer.

              Considering that there’s as much difference between ISO 100 and ISO 25,600 as there is between a one-second exposure and a 1/250s exposure, that’s fucking mind-blowing.



      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        When you don’t venture past 400 because of noise, it is!

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