Nature Sketches– Hairy Woodpecker


I have been participating weekly in the Outdoor Hour Challenges inspired by the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock for a little over a year. Each week Barb, the hostess, posts a challenge for us to participate in our own back yard, favorite park, or nearby open space. She  gives us specific items to read, look up, observe, and draw. (Here is a link to last year’s Owl Study – they are all listed on her blog or you may purchase a seasonal ebook)

However, as she graduates another son, and has been putting out the challenges for a few years now – she has moved on to a wonderful new idea. A Monthly Newsletter! (read This Post to learn more about the changes.)

So we move forward also – Our goal – Was to Observe at a more Middle School Level. To not just take hikes, but to turn those hikes into learning experiences. Now, armed with many challenges on her website, a years worth of e-books downloaded and the HNS book in hand – We are set to practice what we have learned throughout this year.

We started with observation of Birds, and sharing our joy with the neighbors as they try not to run me over when I stand in the middle of the road to get the perfect photo .  When they find something cool, they call – this week, thanks to Covenant Creek – it is a Woodpecker Nest. (Click here to see the woodpecker nest!)

The boys and I have spent three visits to the dead Red Alder tree watching the Woodpeckers fly back and forth. We have learned their calls – which change when we arrive – and then change after we have been still. They seem to signal each other taking turns, or signaling when they have a grub to return to the nest. The babies in the nest almost have a purring noise, and then – it changes – frantic – hungry – ready – sometimes, the signal that a grub is coming turns on the frantic yet joyful sound. A swooshing flyby sound of wind rushes past your hearing as the parent darts into the nest. Only spending a half of a second on the outside of the tree.  We have learned if we stand much farther back, they might go around the tree once or twice, but mostly – in and out. Jon says – do all birds spend their entire day just getting food?  Yep. Pretty much. That’s what animals do – not just birds.

Next – we come home – armed with observations – to read pages 70-74 in the Handbook of Nature Study.  We learn that the Woodpecker has a 4th toe, that goes backwards, with an amazing hook, that allows him to cling to the tree.  We learned from our neighbor, and again from the book – that their nest is drilled down into the pole, quite a large accommodation is made by the parents for the children.


Drawing of Woodpecker Nest –

But the most amazing thing – that Jon and Nate claims to be the most interesting thing we have EVER studied – is their tongue. It has a bone structure, with a bone out the front, with little hooks that helps them to grab the grubs out of the tree. Jon says it looks like a harpoon. We watched the video below after finding out this information from the HNS Book – and you can see he does like to pierce even the piece of corn to bring it back to his mouth. Really Amazing.

Watch the Harpoon Action on this YouTube Video!

So – Armed with Observation, Information, and Colored Pencils – we sit down to record what we have learned.


This is Nate’s Journal Page – He has really started to enjoy the sketch journals. He still gets pretty silly with it at times, but I think the skills he’s gained over the year has led to being more confident in recording the facts.(plus he seems to really enjoy your comments)


Jon REALLY likes the harpoon. This study has been his vote for “Favorite Nature Study” so far.  Funny Boy.


After we have observed the object in the wild, we use the Sibley’s book to help us see the details to draw, however, neither boy used the book.  Just me. And – My bird was voted as Worst Bird. Nice.


Nathan reads what we learned –

  • that there are barbs at the end of their long tongues and bones in their tongue,
  • they have an extra toe to help them hook into the tree,
  • they prefer to have shavings in their nest, and if you build them a nest, the shavings will keep other birds from taking over
  • they play the drums to attract mates, and sometimes, the female will play a tune or two to see if a male starts a competition – and bam – she’s found a man. Winking smile


A rainy June Day on the Oregon Coast. Glad we don’t “Homeschool” through the summer – aren’t you?

This blog post will be submitted to the June Newsletter’s Linky – Won’t you share something that you are interested in outside this month?

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
This entry was posted in Outoor Hour Challenge, Some Schooling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Nature Sketches– Hairy Woodpecker

  1. Kristin says:

    I love the drumming picture! 😀

  2. Zonnah says:

    It sounds like you guys had a lot of fun!

  3. Serena says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing all of this amazing info. We have watched woodpeckers for years, even had a nest in a tree near our house, but we never knew about their incredible harpoon like tongues. Very cool. My boys will love seeing this post.

  4. Tricia says:

    What a wonderful study! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am quite partial to summer nature study. Birds especially! (Fanning myself and sending some 90 degree temps your way from the southeast). ~ Tricia

  5. I love, love, love their journal pages. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

  6. Angie, Nate, and Jon,

    Wonderful nature study…I can see why you really enjoyed learning about the woodpecker and his amazing design of a tongue. I enjoyed the video too, seeing that tongue in action. Great job on the journals and sketches, so thorough and personalized.

    Thank you so much for sharing your study.

I love to hear from my readers, I appreciate comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s