Editor’s note: Per our Audubon Photography Awards official rules, which state that a person can only win one category in a given year, we have updated our awardees so that both video finalists are co-winners.
With their stunning looks and captivating behaviors, birds often enthrall us when they cross our path. Many people spend hours or years seeking them out. But just as often, we stumble upon unique moments in a stroke of luck. Sometimes all it takes is simply stopping to appreciate an everyday scene with fresh eyes.
Regardless of the time and effort invested, all meaningful experiences with birds require a common ingredient: our attention.
Almost 2,500 photographers and videographers submitted nearly 10,000 entries to this year’s contest—sharing the fruits of their boundless attention with us. In a world filled with endless distractions, that is a gift. Notice what is offered by the images and videos honored here, selected by three expert panels who judged anonymous image and video files. From the bold action of a raptor to the subtlest detail in the feather patterns of ptarmigan, take a moment to revel in what you might otherwise miss.
The 2022 APA Judges
Amateur, Professional, Youth, Plants for Birds, Grand, and Fisher Prizes:
- Sabine Meyer, photography director, National Audubon Society
- Melissa Hafting, conservation photographer and youth nature educator
- Allen Murabayashi, chairman and co-founder, PhotoShelter
- John Rowden, senior director for bird-friendly communities, National Audubon Society
- Tara Tanaka, wildlife photographer and videographer
- Mike Fernandez, video producer, National Audubon Society
- Sean Graesser, biologist and conservation photographer and videographer
- Tara Tanaka, wildlife photographer and videographer
Female Bird Prize:
Founders of the Galbatross Project: Brooke Bateman, Stephanie Beilke, Martha Harbison, Purbita Saha, Joanna Wu
Judging criteria: technical quality, originality, artistic merit
Grand Prize: Jack Zhi
Species: White-tailed Kite
Location: Costa Mesa, California
Camera: Sony a9ii with Sony 600mm f/4.0 lens with a Sony FE 2x Teleconverter; 1/3200 second at f/8; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: I studied White-tailed Kite behavior for three years before I got this close-up. It was a challenge to get the action, distance, lighting, and angles of the individuals all right at the same time. The father, who teaches his fledglings to hunt, held a vole in his talons. The fledgling flew in and, in a blink, grabbed the rodent as the father let go. Wildlife does spectacular things—people walk by without even knowing. My passion is to capture that beauty and behavior and share it with people who don’t have the time to see it in nature.
Bird Lore: Graceful grassland fliers of North and South America, White-tailed Kites feed mainly on mice, voles, and other small mammals. Some other raptors seek such prey by watching from a perch or soaring slowly across the landscape, but this bird does almost all its hunting by hovering in one spot, intently scanning the ground below, and then rapidly pouncing. This technique requires great dexterity in flight, and adult White-tailed Kites may devote several weeks to training young who have left the nest.
Amateur Award Winner: Peter Shen
Species: Western Grebe
Location: Calero Reservoir, San Jose, California
Camera: Sony A1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 lens with a Sony 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I was hiking on a narrow, rocky trail when I saw a Western Grebe with two chicks on her back. I unpacked my gear and knelt at the shore’s edge. A male arrived with a fish and passed it to the mom, who turned to face me and made eye contact. I quickly laid flat on the gravel, bird droppings all around, but I didn’t care. My heart pounded. One chick got hold of the fish, but the second bit onto the other end. They tugged, back and forth, until the second chick won. The rivalry brought back happy memories of my siblings, our mom in the middle.
Bird Lore: Western Grebes hatch out of eggs in nests that float on the water’s surface. Within minutes of emerging, the baby grebes scramble up onto the back of their attending parent; the adult grebe soon swims away carrying them, becoming in effect a new living, floating nest. For up to four weeks the male and female adults take turns at parental duties, one toting the young while the other hunts for food to bring back for them.
Professional Award Winner: Liron Gertsman
Species: White-tailed Ptarmigan
Location: Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 100
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve spent countless hikes searching for the elusive “mountain chicken,” also known as the White-tailed Ptarmigan, to no avail. On this day, after a couple of hours, I stumbled right onto some. The small group was so well camouflaged I didn’t notice it until movement caught my eye. Wanting to capture these remarkable birds in the context of their domain, I put on a wider lens and sat down. They continued to forage at close range, and I captured this image of an individual posing in front of the stunning mountains.
Bird Lore: Beautifully adapted to the cold, ptarmigan thrive year-round in harsh conditions of the Arctic and high mountains where few birds could survive. They feed on buds, leaves, and twigs of willows and other shrubby tundra plants, seeking out windswept spots where stems extend above the snow. Their thick plumage provides superb insulation, as well as camouflage, changing with the seasons. They even grow snowshoes: Thick feathers develop on their feet in winter, helping them walk across the snow’s surface.
Video Award Co-Winner: Liron Gertsman
Species: Sharp-tailed Grouse
Location: Thompson-Nicola, British Columbia, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @400mm lens and Canon EF to RF mount adapter; 1/60 second at f 5.6; ISO 5000
Story Behind the Shot: This clip from the pre-sunrise hours captures Sharp-tailed Grouse males dancing and chirping at a lek. Careful not to bother them, I filmed as they bent over, stretched their wings, and stomped their feet. It sounded like rapid drumming. Their tails standing straight up, they displayed again and again. As much as I love the power of photos to tell a story, some scenes need more than a frame to capture the bigger picture.
Bird Lore: All of North America’s prairie grouse have impressive courtship dances that have been inspiring humans for millennia. Many Native American peoples of the Great Plains and the Interior West have stirring, elaborate ceremonial dances based on those of the grouse. The Sharp-tailed Grouse is a close relative of the two species of prairie-chickens, but it’s less dependent on open grasslands, favoring habitats with more brushy cover, and often moving into wooded areas in winter
Plants for Birds Award Winner: Shirley Donald
Species: Nashville Warbler
Location: Blue Sea, Quebec, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO II USM lens and a Canon 1.4x Teleconverter III; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: I planted a scarlet bee balm beneath my office window. Over several years it spread, the mass of flowers blooming midsummer in time to feed juvenile hummingbirds. Once the flowers are spent, the seedheads shelter insects and attract snails. Birds inspect them and feast off their finds. With my camera on a tripod, lens poking through a hole in the mesh I use to screen my open window, I’m ready for any opportunity—such as this warbler snatching a tiny snail.
Bird Lore: The Nashville Warbler’s name reflects an era when bird migration was poorly understood. In 1810, ornithologist Alexander Wilson journeyed west. He discovered three warbler species new to science and named them for places where he saw them. The Kentucky Warbler does nest in Kentucky, but the Tennessee and Nashville Warblers were only traveling to forests of the far north.
Fisher Prize: Steve Jessmore
Species: Northern Shoveler
Location: Muskegon County Wastewater Management System, Muskegon County, Michigan
Camera: Sony Alpha 1 mirrorless camera with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and a ProMaster carbon monopod; 1/1000 second at f/11; ISO 2000
Story Behind the Shot: The whipping wind and bitter cold on a dreary winter Michigan morning made it hard to stand and keep my lens steady. Huddled behind my Subaru, I noticed groups of Northern Shovelers feeding and was drawn to the swirling motion as they circled, the groups growing and shrinking. I tried to fill my frame with ducks, their bodies covering the water’s surface and heads down in water. Almost two hours into shooting, a drake rose from the center and spread his wings. With his green head, shovel-shaped bill, yellow eyes, and striking sky-blue panels, he looked statuesque for a second or two before dropping back to feed.
Bird Lore: Some birds stay far apart when foraging, but the Northern Shoveler often feeds in tightly packed groups. Fine comb-like structures inside its oversized bill allow it to strain tiny items from the water, so it swims with its bill submerged, sifting out crustaceans, insects, seeds, and other edibles. Paddling with its feet, stirring up the muddy bottom, it brings more food up within reach. When many shovelers do this together, they provide a rich supply of food for all.
Video Award Co-Winner: Xiao Hu
Species: Great Blue Heron
Location: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Micanopy, Florida
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens and a Canon 1.4x Teleconverter and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/1000 second at f/5.6.; ISO 951
Story Behind the Shot: Seeing Great Blue Herons with full breeding plumage up close is not an everyday business. The La Chua Trail is a go-to place to watch alligators and birds, but since Hurricane Irma, it has been mostly under water. For a brief while, the trail was walkable, and I witnessed these birds build a nest without needing binoculars. The couple chose a notable surface: a solar panel. Crews had to remove the nest, but not before I shot a slow-motion clip of one heron flying toward it with a branch, feathers blowing in the wind.
Bird Lore: At a glance, Great Blue Herons might not look like they’d nest in high places. But they are such graceful and powerful fliers that they can gather large sticks and carry them up to 100 feet above the ground, forming a cradle for their eggs in treetops or at other raised sites. Nest building is a shared task for mated pairs: Males typically gather sticks and other items but females do most of the discerning work of placing materials in the nest.
Youth Honorable Mention: Amiel Hopkins
Species: Greater Prairie-Chicken
Location: Fort Pierre National Grassland, Fort Pierre, South Dakota
Camera: Nikon D3500 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: I spent the night in a freezing, cramped blind so I could be in position by dawn to photograph Greater Prairie-Chicken spring courtship displays. Males inflate vocal sacs, make deep, booming calls, dance about like wind-up toys, and fight other males to defend their territories. That morning one bird flew onto my blind and began to dance, its feet making loud, clacking noises on the tin roof. When another came within arm’s reach, I captured its intricate and beautiful feather pattern as it emitted a loud cackling cry. At that distance, the bird would pick up any movement and flush, so I remained still. Thankfully, it never noticed me.
Bird Lore: On spring mornings a few centuries ago, prairies of the North American interior echoed with a deep, low, moaning sound that pulsed across the landscape. This was the “booming” of male Greater Prairie-Chickens coming together at their ancestral display grounds to posture and dance in a bid to attract females. The sound from a large booming ground could carry more than two miles across the grasslands. Prairie-chickens still gather at isolated sites across several states, but their numbers today barely hint at their former abundance.
Amateur Honorable Mention: Ankur Khurana
Species: Common Raven
Location: Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/250 second at f/5.6; ISO 4000
Story Behind the Shot: My partner and I came upon this couple on the last day of 2021 as we plowed through heavy snow in cold that settled into our bones. The larger raven groomed its mate’s head feathers as it clicked, gurgled, cawed, and shrieked. While ravens are common here, I could not miss photographing this intimate interaction. My hands numb, I pulled my camera out and clicked several shots. As we walked away, the ravens continued to indulge in playful displays on the ground and in flight. We’d seen ravens, and proof of their obvious intelligence, hundreds of times, but this raven encounter is one that will be hard to beat.
Bird Lore: Belonging to the same family as jays and crows, the Common Raven is classified as a songbird—the largest one in the world. It’s also among the smartest of birds. Adults form long-term monogamous pairs, and pairs stay together year-round, seeming to communicate with each other by using a wide variety of calls and nonvocal signals. Members of a pair often perch close together and take turns preening each other’s feathers with what looks for all the world like a display of sheer affection.
Female Bird Prize: Alan Krakauer
Species: Greater Sage-Grouse
Location: Fremont County, Wyoming
Camera: Canon EOS 6D with a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 lens and a UV filter; 1/1600 second at f/8; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: It had been several frigid hours since I had climbed into a blind in a remote valley, arriving before first light to avoid disturbing a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. While I was usually pointing my camera at fighting and strutting males, this photograph of a hen pausing between snow-draped shrubs became my favorite. With her calm eyes and intricately patterned plumage, the female almost took my frosty breath away. While I huddled in my bulky coat and two pairs of long underwear, the grouse seemed unbothered by the temperature. I am amazed at how these hardy birds live year-round in this harsh environment, and yet a species this tough is imperiled by so many threats to its existence.
Bird Lore: Few birds are so tightly linked to a particular plant as the Greater Sage-Grouse is to sagebrush. This big bird, our largest native grouse, is found almost entirely in habitats dominated by various species of sagebrush. It builds its nest beneath these plants, rests in their shade on hot days, and consumes their buds, leaves, flowers, and stems, with sage leaves making up the majority of its winter diet. It’s not just a matter of preferring their taste: The digestive system of this grouse is uniquely adapted for consuming sagebrush.
Youth Award Winner: Jayden Preussner
Species: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Location: Farm 13/Stick Marsh, Indian River County, Florida
Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AFS NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED lens; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 2800
Story Behind the Shot: I set out along a dike and levee system that puts you at eye level with trees and saw a pair of Black bellied Whistling-Ducks sitting on a hollowed out palm. Before I knew it, one looked as if it had simply fallen in. The other peered down the trunk, seemingly thinking, “What an idiot.” My friend and I burst out laughing. The scene was silly, but now I look back and think: That was a nice shot of the birds interacting with their environment. Showcasing those relationships is important to me.
Bird Lore: Whistling ducks make up a highly distinctive group of lanky, long legged, longnecked waterfowl. Unlike typical ducks, males and females look the same, and both sexes incubate eggs and tend to young. In the past they were often called tree ducks, and this species earns the title, usually nesting in holes in trees—or nest boxes provided by human admirers.
Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Warren Johnson
Species: Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi
Location: Haleakalā National Park, Maui, Hawai‘i
Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 720
Story Behind the Shot: After heavy December rains, native trees flowered and Hawaiian honeycreepers, in turn, began breeding. This Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi was a regular visitor to an ‘iliahi, also known as sandalwood. Their interaction illustrates an interdependent relationship that coevolved over millennia. To me, the scene alludes to how much Hawaiian avifauna and flora have been lost—a moment that was once common has become relatively rare. I was so focused on the bird that I didn’t see the bee below it when I snapped the shot.
Bird Lore: Hawai‘i once had nearly 40 species of honeycreepers, a distinct group of finches unique to these islands. Almost half are now extinct, and most remaining species are endangered. The Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi is one of the few that has a healthy population, perhaps because it is somewhat less specialized than others. Still, like all honeycreepers, it is heavily reliant on native plants, and protection of native forest is probably key to its long-term survival.
Professional Honorable Mention: Liron Gertsman
Species: Sharp-tailed Grouse
Location: Thompson-Nicola, British Columbia, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon EF to RF mount adapter; 1/6400 at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: One of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in nature is a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, where males gather to perform courtship displays for females. The birds arrive in darkness and dance and display through the morning. These birds are notoriously flighty and sensitive to disturbance, so to observe them respectfully, I scouted a location the afternoon prior. Waking up at 3 a.m., I hiked for 45 minutes to reach my hide outside the lek’s perimeter. At first light, the show began. Each male on the lek defended his small territory and fights regularly broke out. This shot was one of thousands I took that morning.
Bird Lore: On a lek, male Sharp-tailed Grouse gather in impressive numbers—sometimes 50 or more—and dance to attract the attention of females. Mating success doesn’t just go to those with the most alluring moves; position on the lek is important, too, with most females gravitating to males holding the prime spots at the center. As a result, competition for those central locations is intense, and the dancing is often interrupted by violent fights as males spar for better position.
These winning images originally ran in the Summer 2022 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.