Audubon Photography Awards

The 2019 Audubon Photography Awards: Top 100

Prepare to be delighted by the variety of birdlife and the story behind each stunning image.

This year thousands of photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted more than 8,000 images to the 10th annual Audubon Photography Awards. Our panel of expert judges whittled down the entries to six spectacular winners, but with so many fantastic submissions every year, we always have to share more. Once again, we've selected 100 additional photographs, displayed here in no particular order. The collection shows birdlife in all its delightful and captivating variety, from elegant to humorous to powerful.

And should the stunning images spark an interest in picking up a camera to capture the beauty of birds, check out our photography guide; it’s got everything you need to get started, including tips and how-to’s, gear recommendations, and Audubon's ethical guidelines for wildlife photography. 

Looking for a more personal experience? Train with pros this summer at a series of free Canon- and Audubon-led workshops, bird walks, and festivals around the country; events will be held at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge, the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Mississippi, the John James Audubon Center in Pennsylvania, and more (click here for the complete schedule). Next year your photograph of a feeding frenzy or an intimate family portrait might make the cut.

Category: Professional
Photographer: Pamela Underhill Karaz
Species: Roseate Spoonbill
Location: Bunche Beach Preserve, Fort Myers, FL
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: On a beach in Florida, I made my way over to a pool formed by the low tide and laid down next to it in the wet sand. Within minutes a group of Roseate Spoonbills flew in and landed nearby. They walked through the shallow water, swinging their open bills from side to side to sift for crustaceans and small fish. At one point the more brightly colored adult snapped at the leg of the paler juvenile. Seconds later they went back to searching for food as though nothing had happened.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Karen Boyer Guyton
Species: Anna’s Hummingbird
Location: Quilcene, WA
Camera: Sony Alpha 99 II with Tamron 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 SSM lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: Where I live in western Washington, Anna’s Hummingbirds overwinter and remain quite active in even the coldest part of the season. This past winter was particularly snowy, so I put out extra feeders for the birds and set out cattails for them to use as nesting material. Two females I had seen quickly found the nesting option to their liking, and I captured this shot one morning in March from my back patio.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Nate Chappell
Species: House Finch, Pyrrhuloxia, Northern Cardinal
Location: Elephant Head, Amado, AZ
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: While I was in the midst of photographing these birds perched on top of a cactus, they all started flying off at once. I was thrilled to capture the three lined up in various stages of takeoff: the House Finch still perched, the Pyrrhuloxia with its wing up, and the Northern Cardinal launched into the air. It was an added bonus that Pyrrhuloxias and cardinals look so similar, as they are closely related.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Michael Despines
Species: Savannah Sparrow
Location: Skagit County, WA
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: On a trip to tulip fields, I came armed with a selection of wide-angle lenses to take a typical landscape shot. I noticed a Savannah Sparrow perched on a flower, calling out to proclaim his territory, and I realized a very different shot might be possible—a fanciful Technicolor bird-scape. The following week I returned with a new lens and began to study the sparrow. He often preferred the tallest tulips in the area, and would stay in his monochromatic field. I found sparrows in pink, purple, yellow, and orange fields. This fellow offered “Savannah in Red.”
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Daniel D’Auria
Species: Snowy Egret
Location: Peaceful Waters Sanctuary, Wellington, FL
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/4; ISO 125
Story Behind the Shot: On an evening trip to a wildlife sanctuary I knelt close to the water’s edge, watching several waders hunt for their last meal of the day. A Snowy Egret, prowling the duckweed-filled marshes, was waiting for the right moment to strike. As it lunged forward, I fired off a series of frames, capturing the instant its sharp bill pierced the surface, sending duckweed flying into the air.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Peter Brannon
Species: Red-shouldered Hawk
Location: Tampa, FL
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4 IF-ED lens; 1/3200 second at f/4; ISO 2000
Story Behind the Shot: While birding at a local park, I heard splashing noises coming from the woods. I stepped through the foliage and came across this Red-shouldered Hawk bathing in a large puddle. I lowered myself to the ground and maneuvered my lens through the brush. I chose a shallow depth of field to deal with the low light and busy setting, and a fast shutter speed to capture the splashes. The hawk stayed and bathed for a few minutes before shaking himself and flying off. It was a wonderful, intimate moment.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Corey Raffel
Species: Resplendent Quetzal
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and tc-14e iii teleconverter; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 1800
Story Behind the Shot: On a trip to Costa Rica, I had the chance to photograph a pair of these big, spectacular members of the trogon family at their nest. Every 20 minutes, the male or female would show up with an insect or wild avocado for the nestlings. Here, I caught the male peering out of the nest hole after a delivery. I got a kick out of seeing that his long streamers—the upper tail coverts, not his tail feathers—didn’t fit in the nest with him, but curved around to stick out over his head.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Cameron Darnell
Species: Loggerhead Shrike
Location: Sebastian, FL
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/4; ISO 100
Story Behind the Shot: Whenever I see Loggerhead Shrikes, they always seem to prefer man-made perches. But this individual made my day by lighting on a natural twig in glowing backlight. The perch was exceedingly flimsy in the wind, so the bird had a hard time staying upright.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Matthew Olson
Species: Anna's Hummingbird
Location: Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, OR
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 400mm f/4.5-5.6 L DO IS USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: A few days after our wedding, my spouse and I went to one of our favorite places in Oregon. We encountered this little male aggressively patrolling his territory, his beak speckled with pollen. He stopped and perched on a willow branch right in front of us for a few brief seconds—long enough for me to shoot a couple frames. The photo is a sort of special wedding gift for us.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson
Species: Common Yellowthroat
Location: Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, Newport Beach, CA
Camera: Nikon D810 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I visited a local preserve during the California super bloom, when coastal sage scrub and California sunflowers were at their peak—a favorite of birds looking for bugs and caterpillars. This day, I followed this male Common Yellowthroat that was out in the open, calling for a mate. I used a shallow depth of field to isolate him and create a sense of smallness and fragility.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Lisa Sproat
Species: Ural Owl
Location: Tsurui, Akan District, Hokkaido, Japan
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/200 second at f/8; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: In late afternoon I was walking on a footpath through the woods in Hokkaido on an especially cold day as the snow was starting to get heavy. When we turned the last switchback, the snow blanketing the woods reflected just enough light to illuminate this pair of Ural Owls in a tree hollow. They slept through the frigid half hour I spent observing them, only stirring to shuffle in their sleep. To get this shot, I balanced my lens on my knee and braced against a tree so my shivering wouldn't blur the image.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Peter Hartlove
Species: Willow Ptarmigan
Location: Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada
Camera: Nikon D5 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: On a trip to the shores of Hudson Bay in search of polar bear sows and cubs emerging from their dens, I came across a congregation of Willow Ptarmigan. I climbed out of my sled, pulled off my bulky mittens, and got as low to the ground as possible. I noticed one straggler hanging back that started jumping to nibble on a tree branch. I had never heard of this behavior before, and I smiled as my shutter fired away, getting shots of multiple jumps. This image captured the moment best.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Brian Knight
Species: American Dipper
Location: Estes Park, CO
Camera: Nikon D7100 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: On a chilly November afternoon, I discovered this American Dipper foraging in a Colorado stream. It dove headfirst into the freezing water again and again in search of food. I waited on the river bank as it moved back and forth across the rocky stream, slowly making its way toward me. I captured this brief moment of the dipper perched on an ice shelf before it plunged into the water once again.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Steve Torna
Species: Atlantic Puffin
Location: Grímsey Island, Iceland
Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/4.5; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: In July I was fortunate to visit Grímsey Island, Iceland, and experience 10 days of total immersion in the life of the Atlantic Puffin. On the last evening of the trip, severe wind and dark skies nearly drove me inside. But I decided to remain on the cliffs and was rewarded with an unexpected break in the clouds and an unobstructed view of a backlit, sand-eel-toting puffin hurrying to its burrow.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Sonja Puhek
Species: Killdeer
Location: Barr Lake State Park, Brighton, CO
Camera: Olympus EM-1 Mark II with M.Zuiko ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens; 1/800 second at f/8. ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I was exhausted and ready to go home after a long, cold morning of birding when I noticed several male Killdeer competing for a female. I crept over to the clearing and got as low as I could until I was at the birds’ level. The group was constantly moving except for one instant when they all lined up perfectly and looked at the camera. I spent another hour taking pictures of the fighting before two finally mated and the rest flew away.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Teri Franzen
Species: Peregrine Falcon
Location: Bradford County, PA
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: During a recent spring I had the incredible fortune of discovering Peregrine Falcons on a friend’s property nesting in cliffs where the birds hadn’t been sighted since the 1950s. For weeks I dressed in camouflage from head to toe and made my way to a ledge 60 yards from the nest. I watched the chicks grow and witnessed their first days of flying. In this shot, a male fledgling looks up in hopes of receiving a scrap of food that one of his parents had just delivered to his brother. Shortly after, he flew up and shared the meal.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Hob Osterlund
Species: Laysan Albatross
Location: Kilauea, Kauai, HI
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T2i with Canon 70mm-300 mm lens; 1/320 second at f/13 ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: When Laysan Albatross parents forage in the vast North Pacific, they leave their chicks behind, unattended. The little ones often spend their waking hours exploring. They build new nests and pick up objects off the ground, and tug on branches like a puppy would tug on slippers. The older they get, the more interested they become in things that fly: birds, bees, butterflies—even helicopters and planes. I saw this chick watching an adult albatross fly overhead; when I returned the next day, it had fledged.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Gary Leka
Species: Red-winged Blackbird
Location: Linn, TX
Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 3200
Story Behind the Shot: I happened to spot this group of blackbirds as I was preparing to get into a blind to observe birds by a water-hole in South Texas in an otherwise arid area. I noticed that the female appeared bolder than many of the other birds visiting the water. With the weak morning light, I felt fortunate to get her head frozen in this position.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Sarah Devlin
Species: Red-tailed Hawk
Location: Dennis, MA
Camera: Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I arrived at the beach on a frigid morning hoping to find a group of overwintering Snowy Owls. Before I even left my car I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk flying erratically over the marsh, chasing something. I grabbed my camera, jumped out of the car, and began tracking the hawk with my lens. Soon it dropped close to the ground, still in hot pursuit. I took a quick burst as the hawk flew through a stand of phragmites. I was struck by its power and grace.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Joshua Galicki
Species: Black-browed Albatross
Location: New Island, Falkland Islands
Camera: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/8; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: I decided to spend an early morning at a Black-browed Albatross colony on a remote, western island in the Falklands archipelago. I arrived as the sun was rising, providing just enough light to illuminate this albatross pair as they performed a courtship ritual with bills crossed, mutual preening, and vocalizations. The cliff below was not yet lit, providing a dark background that emphasizes the intimacy of the moment.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: David Bates
Species: Wild Turkey
Location: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/3200 second at f/8; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: After photographing the blastoff of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at sunrise on a birding trip over the Thanksgiving holiday, I saw a flock of turkeys feeding in a field. In hopes of capturing one in flight, I checked the direction of the wind and the light, set up my position, and waited. Finally, the flock took flight with a mountain backdrop, illuminated by the soft morning light. I may have missed a big Thanksgiving dinner with my family, but I didn’t miss a Thanksgiving turkey.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Alan Krakauer
Species: Marbled Godwit, Willet
Location: Arrowhead Marsh, Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA Camera: Canon EOS 6D with SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/2000 second at f/10; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: At a marsh near where I live in the San Francisco Bay, a boardwalk juts out into the tidal wetland. On one high-tide visit, wave after wave of Marbled Godwits and Willets began descending on the far end of the boardwalk. As more birds flew in, the earlier arrivals were forced to make space, resulting in a mass of hundreds of shorebirds shuffling toward me. I lay down to get eye level with the mob and captured this close up, primarily of godwits.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Frank Young
Species: Roseate Spoonbill
Location: Green Cay Nature Center & Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL
Camera: Nikon D300S with Nikon DX AF-S NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 GED VR; 1/1000 second at f/5; ISO 200
Story Behind the Shot: As I walked the boardwalk of a nature preserve, a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills flew into the area and started feeding. Knowing that the fading light would give me little time to get a decent photograph, I hurried to get into a good position. I got lucky when one of the spoonbills waded toward me, just as the sun was setting, and I was able to capture this beautiful bird at one of my favorite places.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Gail Bisson
Species: Piping Plover
Location: Big Glace Bay Beach, Glace Bay, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Camera: Canon EOS-1 DX with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/7.1; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: A pair of nesting Piping Plovers returns to this beach each year, and every July I look forward to seeing the new chicks learn to forage on the shoreline. I spend hours on my belly, propped up on elbow pads and knee pads, waiting for the curious birds to make their way toward me. I watch as they catch bugs, preen, and begin to navigate on their own. For three years I’d tried to catch the chicks stretching their wings on camera before I finally captured this shot.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Christina McCormick
Species: Hooded Warbler
Location: Zaleski State Forest, Zaleski, OH
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 2500
Story Behind the Shot: I had been shooting photos with friends on a misty morning when the others decided to call it a day. Just after they left, this Hooded Warbler landed on a branch nearby. The bird, the water droplets, and the patter of the rain on my rain jacket all made the moment alone seem magical.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Joshua Galicki
Species: Gentoo Penguin
Location: Volunteer Point, East Falkland, Falkland Islands
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/4000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: I was lying on the beach during a stretch of fair weather, just waiting to capture a Gentoo Penguin jumping out of the surf. To my delight a trio emerged from the water and walked straight toward me. This photo seems to capture the unique personality of each bird. I saw three best friends, from left to right: the comedian, the ringleader, and the runway model.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Nate Chappell
Species: American Avocet
Location: San Luis Pass, Galveston Island, TX
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/9; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: The sun had just made an appearance, lighting up the clouds on an overcast day, when I noticed a group of avocets flying high in the sky. As soon as I pointed my lens at the flock they banked, showing off the intricate patterns on their wings. After I snapped off a round of shots the sun went back behind the clouds and I decided to call it a day and head home.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Edmund Prescottano
Species: African Jacana
Location: Chobe River, Chobe National Park, Kasane, Botswana
Camera: Fujifilm X-H1 with Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.4; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I was on a small boat on a river in Botswana. We entered a small lagoon covered with lily pads and came upon a jacana tip-toeing over the plants, searching for something to eat. To get eye-level with the bird, I hung over the bow of the boat and positioned my camera just above the water.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Barbara White
Species: Willet
Location: Laguna Beach, CA
Camera: Sony a7R III with Sony FE 100-400 f4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens ; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: Last winter I started photographing birds on the beach every afternoon. One Willet in particular let me photograph him to my heart’s content, as long as I didn’t get too close. Most of the time he would dig for snails on the water’s edge, but sometimes he tried to grab a morsel that washed up in the surf, like in this shot. Two weeks after I took this photograph he left, I assume to migrate north. I can hardly wait until he comes back next year.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: Gray Hawk
Location: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission, TX
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 140
Story Behind the Shot: While walking through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park I noticed an opening in the trees and saw this Gray Hawk swoop down into a dense bush, probably chasing some other bird as prey. It turned and stared back at me, lit up in dramatic lighting that shows its intensity.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird
Location: Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory, Austin, TX
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250
Story Behind the Shot: On a cold, foggy winter morning I was watching a particularly large flock of mixed blackbirds when the birds began to fly in a spectacular synchronized pattern. A continuous stream of more and more birds joined the immense flock, which cut through the air like a school of fish fleeing a shark.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Steve Torna
Species: Yellow-headed Blackbird
Location: Shiloh Conservation Area, Billings, MT
Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: Each spring I visit my favorite wetland areas to photograph Yellow-headed Blackbirds and listen to their raucous calls. On a particularly cold May morning at sunrise, the birds and cattails were backlit and glowing like miniature lanterns. One landed very close to me, and through my lens I could see a burst of breath rolling in the cold wind with each call. I returned every day for more than a week trying to create a similar image, but the same conditions didn’t occur again.
Category: Youth
Photographer: August Davidson-Onsgard
Species: Blackpoll Warbler
Location: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, NY
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250
Story Behind the Shot: I found this Blackpoll Warbler while leading a bird walk at my local park in New York City. The bird was in the perfect spot for the sun to hit its face while the oak leaves shaded the rest of the photo, creating this dramatic effect.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: David Russell
Species: Southern Red Bishop
Location: Bluff Nature Reserve, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Camera: Nikon D750 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: On a trip to South Africa I was staying at a nature reserve close to the beach, a tiny pristine wetland area behind sand dunes. I went out early one morning to find male Southern Red Bishops positioned on top of reeds, puffing themselves up and frantically trying to out-sing each other to attract a mate. This one was putting his heart and soul into it.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Ann Pacheco
Species: Northern Cardinal
Location: Santa Clara Ranch, Edinburg, TX
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/3200 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: On a bird photography trip to South Texas, I was nervous about being in the field for steady 104-degree days. I brought every cooling device with me I could. But after a day of photographing songbirds from a blind, the heat stress I saw in the birds eclipsed my own discomfort. The blind allowed me to take photographs next to a small manmade pool. When individuals like this female cardinal cautiously approached the water’s edge, I found myself rooting for them to drink and bathe to cool down.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Michael Herdering
Species: Allen's Hummingbird
Location: Arcadia, CA
Camera: Pentax K-50 with SMC Pentax-A 70-210 f4 lens; 1/2000 second at f/13; ISO 4000
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve been photographing hummingbirds in my backyard for more than a decade, sometimes shooting a thousand images of Allen's and Anna's Hummingbirds a day and capturing the rare visit from a Rufous or Black-chinned Hummingbird. I set up a camera in our garden and use a feature that takes an image anytime a subject comes into focus so I can get photos like this, with a bird in flight, looking at the camera and exposing its beautiful metallic throat feathers.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Kevin Lohman
Species: Snowy Egret
Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/1600 second at f/9; ISO 360
Story Behind the Shot: This Snowy Egret caught my attention because whenever another bird got too close to its territory, it would dance and flap its wings to chase off the intruder. I set up my tripod close to the ground with a telephoto lens and started shooting. When another bird got between us, I had a great view of the aggressive egret running straight at me.
Category: Youth
Photographer: David Farlow
Species: Sanderling
Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Camera: Pentax K-5 with Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM lens; 1/3000 second at f/9.5; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: I watched this flock of Sanderlings as they ran along the shoreline looking for food. When a wave receded, they would run closer to the water to grab a quick meal in the wet sand. Then, as another wave crashed, they would run back toward the land as fast as their little legs could carry them. This tiny Sanderling was having a particularly hard time getting back quickly enough to avoid an exceptionally large wave.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: Least Bittern
Location: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Anahuac, TX
Camera: Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 160
Story Behind the Shot: While walking around the edge of a large pond, I noticed this little Least Bittern standing low on one of the reeds. I knew he was fishing, so I approached very slowly so as not to disturb him. The sunlight filtered through the reeds, providing a warm light. I wanted to frame the bird between the reeds and capture the focus of this tiny fisherman.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Zachary Gray
Species: Northern Bobwhite
Location: Laguna Seca Ranch, Hidalgo County, TX
Camera: Canon EOS 70D with Canon EF 100-400mm lens; 1/1250 second at f/11; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: I spent the morning at a ranch in southern Texas taking pictures from a blind. At one point, a Northern Bobwhite male came to drink and quickly left. He must have been scoping out the surroundings because he soon returned with his mate and five chicks. The chicks ran around, drinking and hiding in the brush while their parents watched over them. In the midst of the chaos, the magic happened! All the birds lined up in front of the water for a family portrait.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Will Hilscher
Species: Red-winged Blackbird
Location: Granger Lake, Williamson County, TX
Camera: Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 125
Story Behind the Shot: On a May hike through a grassy field, I witnessed swarms of mayflies buzzing all around me and was perturbed by the great number that chose to land on me. In winter, Red-winged Blackbirds flock by the hundreds in the area, but by late May there are far fewer birds. I was relieved to see one Red-winged Blackbird still around, gorging on the excess of mayflies.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Max Nichols
Species: Yellow-rumped Warbler
Location: Clovis, CA
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/4; ISO 900
Story Behind the Shot: As the sun was setting, I waited on the leaf-covered ground for warblers and sparrows to descend and begin foraging for insects and berries. I positioned myself so that the light would be behind the birds as they landed. After waiting for several minutes I captured this shot of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, its tongue extended, in the golden light.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Scott Dere
Species: Snowy Owl
Location: Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, NY
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200
Story Behind the Shot: Early in the morning when the light was still blue and I could just see the path in front of me, I made my way to the open beach. As the light got brighter, I spotted this owl standing on the shore. I had a tense walk as I passed the bird to set up my shot as low as possible, with the camera angled to capture the glow of the sun reflecting off the Atlantic.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Jocelyn Anderson
Species: Pileated Woodpecker
Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford, MI
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 3600
Story Behind the Shot: I was watching two male Pileated Woodpeckers when this one landed on a thin branch close by. The branch was too small for him, so he swung upside down and hung there for a few seconds. He flapped his wings to right himself—the moment I took this shot—only to swing back upside down. This happened several times. Finally, the other woodpecker flew right by him, spooking him so he took off from the branch.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Logan Southall
Species: Black-necked Stilt
Location: Moss Landing Wildlife Area, Moss Landing, CA
Camera: Nikon D5200 with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: On a sunny California morning I visited the salt ponds of a nearby wildlife area with a friend. Terns blotted out the sky and pelicans soared like airplanes, but the stilts reflected in the water are what caught our eyes. A small group had been scared off by a gull and flew a short lap around the pond before returning. I got this shot moments before the birds touched down in the water.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Scott Dere
Species: Great Gray Owl
Location: Sax Zim Bog, Toivola, MN
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/200 second at f/4; ISO 3200
Story Behind the Shot: I had checked this field for a large owl a few times after noticing imprints of wings in the pristine, snowy field. She didn’t appear until the last moments of light. She perched on a short spruce tree like a holiday ornament presiding over the field. The face of a Great Gray Owl is like a radar dish that can detect rodents beneath a foot of snow and pinpoint their location with incredible accuracy. The tree gave her an even greater advantage, reducing the time she needed to pounce on unsuspecting quarry below.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Matt Williams
Species: Sharp-tailed Grouse
Location: Rudyard, MI
Camera: Nikon D600 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: I lay in a snowbank with other photographers on a guided trip, covered in white sheets in hopes of getting photos of Sharp-tailed Grouse near where the landowners had put out seed for the birds. After a long, cold wait, we had just decided to give up and pack away our gear when the birds emerged from the cover of spruce trees and came running toward us. They scooted on their bellies through the deep drifts, spraying snow as they ran.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Gavin Wong
Species: Bald Eagle
Location: Delta, British Columbia
Camera: Fujifilm X-T3 with Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens; 1/800 second at f/6.4; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: Every year thousands of eagles visit the lower mainland of British Columbia to gorge on spawned-out salmon at the nearby rivers. On a cold day, I saw at least 10 eagles in this tree. I panned the camera to follow the action and snapped away when I saw an interloper fly in, drawing the birds’ gazes in the same direction. I’m happy none of the branches obstructed their heads.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Ian Hearn
Species: Northern Flicker
Location: Muddy Run Park, Holtwood, PA
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens; 1/500 second at f/4.5; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: I spotted this Northern Flicker overhead with its typical woodpecker-like wingbeats and undulating flight. On an impulse I raised my camera and fired off several shots. This one is my favorite because the flicker’s orange-tinted wings match the leaves of the trees.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: American Avocet
Location: Windy Point Park, Lake Travis, TX
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: When I set up this shot of an American Avocet I wanted the image to match the feel and character of the bird. The quiet light from overcast skies, whitish color scheme, and diffused foreground and background created a subtle and muted image that seemed to fit the tranquility of an avocet.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Liron Gertsman
Species: Red-throated Loon
Location: Anchorage, AK
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 400mm IS II USM lens; 1/6400 second at f/5.6; ISO 125
Story Behind the Shot: While visiting Alaska with my dad, I got a tip from a local birder about a Red-throated Loon summering on a lake in Anchorage. After one unsuccessful trip to the lake, we went back the next day and spotted it. When we arrived the loon disappeared for a long dive underwater then it surfaced right in front of me with a big splash—so close that I got all wet!
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Lorraine Minns
Species: Royal Tern
Location: Exuma Cays, Exuma, Bahamas
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/3200 second at f/8; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: While on a boat trip in the Bahamas, I spotted a Royal Tern colony on a small cay. I waded onto the shore of an adjacent island, holding my backpack above my head, to get a better view without disturbing the birds. I watched as a group of gulls harassed an adult tern carrying a fish in the air as it tried again and again to join its mate and chick. Eventually, the tern landed and shared the fish. I was fortunate to capture this family shot of all three terns after the meal.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Nate Chappell
Species: Cape Sugarbird
Location: Mudlark Riverfront Lodge, Infanta, Western Cape, South Africa
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/7.1; ISO 1250
Story Behind the Shot: These sugarbirds were sitting on their favorite perch when they erupted in a squabble. For days I had been working to get photos of the two interacting and showing off their elaborate tails, so I was thrilled to see them bicker. I used a narrow depth of field to blur the background and bumped up my ISO to keep a fast shutter speed in the fading light.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Patricia Lyon
Species: Eared Grebe
Location: Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, Watsonville, CA
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 450
Story Behind the Shot: In November, while the California sky was filled with smoke from the Camp Fire, I traveled to a wildlife reserve in search of cleaner air and the chance to photograph birds. I stopped on a bridge to take pictures of an Eared Grebe and was thrilled when a second grebe came into view, head bobbing in unison with the first. I watched as the pair preened and stretched in tandem. I managed to capture a shot of the beautiful lobed foot of one of the birds sticking out of the water.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Joe Subolefsky
Species: Black Vulture
Location: Conowingo Dam, Harford County, MD
Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 2500
Story Behind the Shot: I was taking photos of Bald Eagles when I became distracted by this pair of Black Vultures acting affectionately—not normally a behavior people associate with the species. I’ve become fascinated by vultures as I’ve learned more about them, including that their stomach juices, which help them break down bacteria-ridden meat, rival battery acid.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Ian Hearn
Species: American Robin
Location: Boise, ID
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR AF 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: On a snowy February day, I went to a nearby pond to photograph waterfowl. Instead I came across a group of robins and waxwings feeding on frozen berries. The waxwings stayed near the tops of the trees, so I focused on the robins. I captured one with its wings outstretched as it reached up for fruit.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Gary Robinette
Species: Northern Flicker
Location: Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, VA
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: For several days I had been watching a pair of Northern Flickers excavate a nest site in a tree cavity and wanted to catch one in the act of tossing out debris. This spot is usually horribly backlit in the morning, so I captured this shot in bright, overcast light at midday. Afterward the pair completed the nest, though ultimately they had to relocate after crows invaded their territory.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Ben Tyler
Species: Greater Sage-Grouse
Location: Henefer, UT
Camera: Canon EOS 6D with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I signed up for an Audubon trip in hopes of seeing a Greater Sage-Grouse where the birds congregate for the spring. There were a few far out in the field, too far for my camera. When the official trip broke up, I stayed in the area to see what else might show up. To my luck, the grouse started coming in quite close, giving me great views of their mating dance and a chance to hear their funny early morning doop calls. It was a privilege to see them in all their goofy glory.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Raymond Hennessy
Species: Common Loon
Location: Grafton County, New Hampshire
Camera: Nikon D4S with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/320 second at f/4; ISO 450
Story Behind the Shot: In early July I spent a few days with a family of Common Loons on a small lake in New Hampshire. One morning, after the temperature had dropped the night before, I paddled out in a kayak through fog hanging just over the water. While I was floating in the boat, this adult swam into a small patch of sunlight that gave it a golden glow. I was thrilled to capture such an intimate portrait.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Tim Huntington
Species: California Condor
Location: Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Sanctuary, Big Sur, CA
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: Biologists at a wildlife facility high in the hills of Central California periodically trap wild condors to give them health checks and replace tags and transmitters before releasing them back into the wild. Sometimes during these checks other wild condors become curious and fly in to see what’s going on, such as Condor 219, also known as Puff Daddy. His nickname comes from his tendency to inflate his air sacs, as I caught him doing here.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Megan Lorenz
Species: Burrowing Owl
Location: Cape Coral, FL
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: Many visitors to Florida hope for beautiful, sunny weather, but I always wish for the opposite. When it rains, Burrowing Owls and their owlets dance: They posture and spread their wings to cool down from the water. This adult male has been a favorite of mine for the past two years. He’s always quick to find a high perch and take advantage of a sudden rainfall.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Nancy Elwood
Species: Snail Kite
Location: Lake Kissimmee, FL
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: We are lucky in Florida to have the only population of Snail Kites in the United States. I went on a friend’s boat to go see the birds and came across several pairs switching off their nest duties. Each time a bird left, it would preen on a nearby branch before flying off to hunt. This female came close by and started preening her feathers from tip to tail, lit up by the early morning light.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Mark Paul
Species: Tennessee Warbler
Location: South Starksboro, VT
Camera: Canon 6D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: I decided to drive home on back roads because the apple trees were in full bloom and I knew Tennessee Warblers were out and fond of them. I stopped to photograph the birds along the way, using my car as a blind. The sky was cloudy and bright and I thought it might produce interesting photographs. I was thrilled when I completed the edit. I collect John James Audubon prints, and I think I finally created an image in the likeness of one.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson
Species: Common Yellowthroat
Location: UCI Ecological Preserve, Irvine, CA
Camera: Nikon D810 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: Invasive black mustard had taken over some of the preserve after an especially wet winter. Each year volunteers weed the area, but I always try to get shots just before they do, because many birds visit the mustard flowers and they make for a great background. I go for daily walks in the preserve, and this day the yellow-on-yellow camouflaged bird fascinated me.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Gene Putney
Species: White-tailed Ptarmigan
Location: Guanella Pass, CO
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: In November I set out to find White-tailed Ptarmigans in their winter plumage, birds I’d long hoped to photograph. To my surprise, it didn’t take long to spot a pair. I watched this one eat its fill before pausing to preen, striking a number of interesting poses in the process. This image is one of my favorites from the day.
Category: Youth
Photographer: August Davidson-Onsgard
Species: Common Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake
Location: Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: On a boat trip with my family, we visited four islands off the coast of Newfoundland, home to more than four million nesting seabirds in the summer, including tens of thousands of Common Murres. I took this shot as a large group of murres circled one of the islands.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Michael Aagaard
Species: Anna’s Hummingbird
Location: Sechelt, British Columbia
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/4; ISO 250
Story Behind the Shot: This winter a female Anna’s Hummingbird visited my feeder several times a day. Watching her through my window became a favorite part of my daily routine. The winters here are very mild, so when a sudden snowstorm followed an unusual cold snap, I became concerned for my little friend—she’s only four inches after all! I was relieved to see her sitting on her favorite perch in the pounding snow and wanted to document the moment. I snuck outside with my camera and snapped a few shots of her in the snow before I hurried back inside to fill the feeder with fresh sugar water.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Ashrith Kandula
Species: Black-bellied Plover
Location: Sandy Hook, NJ
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.6-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: I spent nearly an hour lying in muddy water to get a good picture of this bathing plover. I got as low to the water as possible and set a high shutter speed, low aperture value, and high exposure compensation. Those settings allowed me to freeze the plover in action and capture the fine spray of water droplets around it.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Michael Rigney
Species: Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant
Location: Fred Howard Park, Tarpon Springs, FL
Camera: Panasonic Lumix GX8 with Panasonic Lumix G 100-400mm Leica DG Vario-Elmar lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6 ISO 200
Story Behind the Shot: While taking photos of a flock of Double-crested Cormorants, I noticed this Great Blue Heron wading nearby. The heron, for whatever reason, decided that it wanted to be in the center of this group of birds. It started squawking, nipping, flapping, and generally terrorizing its way into the middle of the crowd. I couldn’t help but laugh at this ridiculous display of dominance and hilarious interaction between species.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Matthew Reitinger
Species: Dunlin
Location: Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, Barnegat Light, NJ
Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: In search of a Snowy Owl on a frigid morning, I stumbled upon a pair of Dunlins hunkered down on a jetty, braving the freezing temperatures. The golden waves glistening in the rising sun caught my eye as they crashed against the rocks behind the tiny shorebirds. Despite the almost single-digit wind chill and cold saltwater mist, I laid as low to the water as I could to capture this spectacular moment.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Roger E. Van Gelder
Species: Acorn Woodpecker
Location: Madera Canyon, Coronado National Forest, AZ
Camera: Sony A7R3 with Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: On a work trip to Arizona I made a stop at Madera Canyon, one of my favorite birding spots. Tropical Storm Michael had just passed the Yucatán, and southern Arizona was drenched in non-stop rain. To make the best of things, I spent the entire day under shelter by the bird feeders at Santa Rita Lodge, watching and taking photos of wet woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and a coatimundi.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Homer Aalfs
Species: Bufflehead
Location: Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA
Camera: Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/640 second at f/8; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: On a cloudy afternoon I lay as still as possible along the muddy shore of a local pond. After a while the Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeons, Mallards, and Buffleheads grew accustomed to me and began swimming nearby. I watched this male Bufflehead dive near the middle of the pond then pop up much closer. The soft light showcased its lovely iridescence and accentuated the shape of its bill, making it look like he was smiling.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Scott Pettett
Species: Snowy Egret
Location: Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, UT
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4 P IF-ED lens; 1/800 second at f/11; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: I saw this Snowy Egret hunting just after dawn, when the sun was still low on the horizon. The bird methodically took one step at a time, massaging the bottom of the pond with its finger-like talons—note the bubbles at the water’s surface, just under its belly—while cocking its head from side to side as it tried to locate any morsels of food that floated to the surface.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: American Coot
Location: Windy Point Park, Lake Travis, TX
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/4000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: They might be one of the smaller water birds, but American Coots are fierce in battle. I was taking photos of another bird when I heard loud splashing and turned to see two coots duking it out. At first they appeared equally matched, but soon one got the better of the other and dunked his opponent underwater. The fight lasted a full 30 seconds before the other bird backed down.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Joseph Molotsky
Species: Golden Eagle
Location: Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue, Port Townsend, WA
Camera: Canon EOS 7D with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM lens; 1/250 second at f/2.8; ISO 320; Flash
Story Behind the Shot: After a car hit this Golden Eagle, he was brought to the bird rehabilitation and education center where I volunteer. The eagle was diagnosed with lead poisoning, a brain injury, and a detached retina. Now he’s an education ambassador because his injuries were too severe to release him back into the wild. In this shot, I was excited to capture his third eyelid, called the nictitating membrane.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Tobias Yoder
Species: Common Pauraque
Location: Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, TX
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/5000 second at f/5.6; ISO 110
Story Behind the Shot: Common Pauraques will happily stay in a pile of brush, perfectly camouflaged, all day long. When I found this bird I noticed a beam of light hitting its head, so I got down low to get a more intimate look and eliminate any distractions. Because of the bright sunlight, it kept its eyes shut for most of the time. When he cracked it open for a quick blink, I snapped this frame.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Cindy Goeddel
Species: American Kestrel
Location: Santa Clara River Reserve, St. George, UT
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark ll with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/640 second at f/8; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: In March I spent five evenings with this pair of American Kestrels. I hiked into the reserve along the Santa Clara River and clambered up a steep slope to get as level with the birds as I could. Each evening the male would fly off to hunt while his mate waited near the top of their favorite tree. Over the course of two hours he would return with as many as five lizards, which the female eagerly consumed. A quick mating session would often follow the meal.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Tim Timmis
Species: Great Egret
Location: Smith Oaks Rookery, High Island, TX
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II lens; 1/1600 second at f/8; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I used a flashlight to guide my way through the sanctuary in the hour before sunrise, listening to the pig-like grunting of cormorants on my walk. After the sun came up, these two egrets put on quite a show building their nest. One waited while the other headed off to collect sticks. The squawking announced the mate’s return, after which they passed the sticks back and forth with great fanfare.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Steve Zamek
Species: Northern Gannet
Location: Bonaventure Island, Quebec
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: A Northern Gannet nesting colony is total chaos. The crowded birds are continually bickering, performing courtship displays, mating, and vocalizing at a deafening volume—all while they build and tend to their nests. I captured this gannet delivering a fresh supply of seaweed for its nest lining. Somehow it managed to find its mate among the mass of birds.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Corey Raffel
Species: Little Blue Heron
Location: Lake Peigneur, Delcambre, LA
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: While on a business trip to New Orleans, I decided to visit a nearby rookery in the hopes of getting photos of Roseate Spoonbills. I got images of the birds and a number of species flying back and forth to their nests. When I returned home and reviewed my photos, I was delighted to find that my best shot was not of a spoonbill, but of a Little Blue Heron. I had never seen the species before and fell in love with their subtle coloration.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Khurram Khan
Species: Common Raven
Location: Yellowstone National Park
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens ED VR lens; 1/320 sec; ISO 640
Story Behind the Shot: While driving through Yellowstone National Park, I saw this Common Raven feeding on the remains of a squirrel. As I got ready to photograph the bird, the snow picked up and started accumulating on its back. I took this picture as the raven looked up and glanced at me before flying off. I was freezing cold and barely able to press the shutter, whereas this resourceful bird appeared to be thriving.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Jackie Connelly-Fornuff
Species: Dunlin
Location: Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, NY
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: When I arrived at Jones Beach, I saw three Dunlin sitting on the rocks. To get closer to the shorebirds without scaring them, I got down on my belly and crawled military-style, while holding my camera up. It was quite a workout. Once I got closer, I watched the birds intently. Dunlins are usually either foraging for food or resting, but I noticed this one scratching himself and took the shot.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Kathleen Borshanian
Species: Violet-headed Hummingbird
Location: Sumaco-Napo Galeras National Park, Napo, Ecuador
Camera: Nikon D7100 with Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens; 1/350 second at f/6.3; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: While on a birding trip in Ecuador, in the shadow of the Sumaco volcano, I watched this tiny bird feeding fast and furiously on flowering shrubs. After days of observing this feeding behavior, I noticed that he kept returning to a secluded perch. Only then did he slow down long enough for me to capture this image.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Isaac Michael Ruschak-Weitzman
Species: Barn Swallow
Location: Congers Lake, Congers, NY
Camera: Nikon D3200 with Nikon DX AFS- Nikkor 55-300mm lens; 1/250 second at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve been observing and photographing Barn Swallows at this location for a year and a half. I became interested in the species because of their unique tails and coloring. The birds are challenging to photograph because they’re quick, they move erratically, and they rarely perch. I wanted this photo to show the beautiful plumage of an adult male.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Peter Brannon
Species: Limpkin
Location: Myakka River State Park, Sarasota, FL
Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4 IF-ED lens; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: Limpkins will occasionally erupt in an aerial boxing match when their feeding areas overlap. I’d long wanted to photograph this behavior, and got my chance at a lake in Myakka River State Park when I found many birds foraging for mollusks at low tide. I was lucky to capture this pair isolated from the group in the height of a fight.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Jocelyn Anderson
Species: Yellow Warbler
Location: Independence Lake County Park, Whitmore Lake, MI
Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR Lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: After a particularly long, cold Michigan winter, I went to a nearby park in search of warblers, a sure sign of spring. I walked a two-mile loop without seeing much. Then a patch of sunshine lit up a maple tree with a Yellow Warbler perched on one of its branches. These little birds are fast—I've taken countless shots of empty branches when trying to get a photo of them. I quickly lined up my shot, focusing through the tree branches, and got a single photo of the warbler before he flew off.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Elizabeth Acevedo
Species: Sora
Location: Fontainebleau State Park, Mandeville, LA
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/8.0; ISO 1250
Story Behind the Shot: On a morning visit to a Louisiana state park, I noticed a bird I’d never seen before darting back and forth over floating marsh plants as it hunted for tiny frogs. I was on an elevated boardwalk with a railing, so I couldn’t get an eye-level shot, but the high angle allowed me to include the marsh plants that camouflaged the bird so well. On the trail back to the car, I passed a friendly birder who helped me identify the species as a Sora.
Category: Youth
Photographer: Nikhil Vishwanath
Species: Common Potoo
Location: Naranjito, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Camera: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with Nikon Monarch M5 8x42 binoculars; f/1.7
Story Behind the Shot: I was on my way to go zip lining with my family while on vacation in Costa Rica and had left my camera behind in our hotel room. On the drive, we pulled over when we saw several photographers gathered on the side of the road. Perched on top of a fence post was a Common Potoo with a chick, perfectly camouflaged. In lieu of my camera, I picked up my binoculars and took a picture of the birds with my phone. I’m still amazed by how well it turned out!
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Matthew Endersbe
Species: White-crowned Sparrow
Location: Red Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ
Camera: Nikon D750 with Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: While visiting Red Rock State Park I set out to photograph a Hooded Merganser. When the bird proved to be out of reach, I turned my lens toward a nearby tree. There, I noticed this White-crowned Sparrow that became the star of my morning. For several minutes it felt like I was playing a game of peek-a-boo as I snapped photos of him every time he popped his head up above the branches.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Peter Hogan
Species: African Golden-Weaver
Location: Mkhuze Game Reserve, Isimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa
Camera: Sony Alpha A6000 with Sony FE 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 G OSS lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 125
Story Behind the Shot: On my first day at a game reserve in South Africa, I went out to explore the surroundings and discovered a large tree covered with weaver nests next to our hotel. I walked out to a small lake where I spotted one of the occupants of those nests, and snapped this photo.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Natalie Robertson
Species: Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon
Location: Superior Park, Ontario
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens; 1/1250 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: In February I was at a park next to Lake Ontario photographing waterfowl when I heard the alarm calls of a Blue Jay behind me. I saw the white flash of a large raptor diving toward the ground and hurried closer, about 40 feet from the bird. To my utter shock the Red-tailed Hawk flew directly toward me with a struggling pigeon in its talons and dropped next to me in the mud. We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. This was one of the most incredible and intimate encounters I’ve ever had with a bird in the wild.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Matt Hansen
Species: Red-tailed Hawk
Location: Oakland County, MI
Camera: Nikon D700 with Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 lens; 1/250 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: On a colorful autumn day I came across this Red-tailed Hawk hunting in a hardwood forest. I was in a spot with a messy background and had a hard time setting up a shot I liked until I figured out an angle with leaves in the foreground. Then I just had to wait for the hawk to give me the nice over-the-shoulder pose.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Lorraine Minns
Species: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Location: Lake Charles, LA
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f/5.0; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: While in Lake Charles, Louisiana, I went into a freshwater marsh in a small boat, in search of wading birds. I almost missed this young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was camouflaged in the tall grasses. The guide slowed down the boat and the heron stood perfectly still, as though it were posing for the shot.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Wanchun Wei
Species: Allen's Hummingbird
Location: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CA
Camera: Cannon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6, ISO 125
Story Behind the Shot: During this year’s super bloom in California, I visited a wetland covered in gorgeous yellow flowers. I was watching a group of hummingbirds feed when I noticed this individual interested in a bush sunflower. After feeding on nectar or tiny insects near the flower, it landed on the stem. I liked the composition of the hummingbird standing on the back of the flower, as if riding on the bowsprit of a ship.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Homer Aalfs
Species: Wood Duck
Location: Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle, WA
Camera: Canon EOS 80D with Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/640 second at f/8; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve long been fascinated by Wood Ducks, and as I’ve learned more about waterfowl I’ve grown increasingly fond of the elegant, beautiful markings that distinguish Wood Duck hens from other species. The subtle bits of colors throughout their plumage and around their eyes are striking and, I think, underappreciated. I watched this particular hen speed across a pond as a drop of water accumulated on the tip of her bill, surrounded by the muted colors of late winter shrubbery.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Zoë Rauscher
Species: Scaled Quail
Location: Midland, TX
Camera: Nikon D3400 with Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR lens; 1/200 second at f/6.3; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: While I was living in Texas for three months, I discovered the challenge of photographing Scaled Quails. When these birds sense anything near them, they immediately run in the opposite direction. But when they were perched in a tree, they didn’t seem to mind my presence. I captured this photograph, one of only two times I was lucky enough to see Scaled Quail in a tree.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Peter Hogan
Species: African Fish-Eagle
Location: Sabie Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Camera: Sony Alpha A6000 with Sony FE 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 G OSS lens; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 200
Story Behind the Shot: On a trip to a game preserve in South Africa, we traveled in an open truck with only one other couple, who also happened to be birders, so we spent much of our time looking for birds. We spotted this eagle above a service road, sitting high above a fence, framed by branches and flowering trees. The eagle didn’t fly away, allowing me to capture this profile.
Category: Professional
Photographer: Joe Gliozzo
Species: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Location: Ocean City, NJ
Camera: Nikon D810 with Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 900
Story Behind the Shot: Every spring I visit coastal New Jersey to watch herons build their nests. Seeing them place each stick and branch is like watching a brick-layer build a wall. I come back each June to look for the new chicks and track their development. When the birds leave in the fall, I look forward to springtime once again.
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Shari McCollough
Species: Eastern Screech-Owl
Location: Crawfordsville, IN
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/80 second at f/6.3; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: Five years ago the whinny of two Eastern Screech-Owls led me to discover a pair nesting in my front yard. Over the years I’ve watched them fledge owlets and found the remains of their meals: decapitated meadow voles, land crabs, mice, and even a few small fish. But I had never seen the female. As I was leaving my driveway one day, I happened to look up and spotted her roosting. I rolled the window down and took a couple of shots from the car. This is one of the frames I got, from a day I’ll never forget!
Category: Amateur
Photographer: Gary Paige
Species: Tufted Puffin
Location: Port Lions, Kodiak Island, AK
Camera: Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I spent two glorious days exploring the islands on the south coast of Alaska, home to thousands of adorable Tufted and Horned Puffins. One island harbored a repeating carousel of puffins that dive off the hundred-foot-high cliffs. Many returned with the classic rows of fish in their beaks—all good photos—but my ultimate goal was to catch one of the dive-bombers pulling out and heading right at me. This image was the shot I’d hoped for.

Congratulations! You made it to the end. If you liked what you saw here, make a donation today to recieve Audubon magazine in the mail.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”
×