Heinz Sielmann, the late German naturalist and documentary maker, was hailed for his ingenious way of capturing elusive animal behaviour on film.
Often referred to as “Mr Woodpecker”, Sielmann would have celebrated his birthday on June 2.
In his honour, Google is changing its logo in nine countries to a doodle, or illustration of him and nature.
This is his story:
Carpenters of the Forest
Born in Rheidt, Germany in 1917, Sielmann moved to East Prussia at a young age where his father opened a business of electrical materials.
- He showed a fascination with the natural world from the first years of his life; he would often wake up early to observe birds.
- At the age of 17, after being given his first camera, he started photographing his natural surroundings.
One of Sielmann’s most notable works was Carpenters of the Forest, which captured one of Europe‘s most elusive birds, the woodpecker, in a way that had never been seen before.
- Sielmann placed cameras inside woodpeckers’ nests and in this way he ended up capturing intimate moments between parent and offspring.
The film was an enormous success globally. The BBC, which broadcast it, was inundated with requests to show it again. The programme’s appreciation index matched that of a football final, according to British newspaper The Guardian.
- The project was followed by a book about its making called My Year with the Woodpeckers. In it, Sielmann wrote: “Of all the animals that I have worked with, the woodpeckers are my favourites … because I was able to find out many new facts about the biology of these birds.”
Of all the animals that I have worked with, the woodpeckers are my favourites
Lords of the Forest
In the late 1950s, Sielmann released his first feature film, Lords of the Forest, which was commissioned by Belgium’s king.
- Sielmann spent 18 months filming the gorillas in what was at the time the Belgian Congo.
This film won first place at the Moscow Film Festival and quickly became one of his most known works.
He was of the first to capture the social nature of gorillas. His film showed that gorillas were gentle and sociable creatures, not the violent animals some people thought them to be.
In the next years, from 1965 to 1991, Sielmann presented a popular wildlife show on German Television, Expeditions into the Animal Kingdom.
In 1971, he filmed The Hellstrom Chronicle, which showed the struggle for survival between humans and insects. This film won an Oscar for best documentary.
He also was the cinematographer on a documentary about the sex lives of animals.
He founded the Heinz Sielmann Foundation, devoted to giving children a better understanding of conservation issues.
Sielmann died on October 12, 2006, in the German city of Munich. He was 89.