50 Photos of Birds That Brought Joy to Our Readers This Year

As part of our Bird from Home project, we put out an open call for images of birds taken at or near home. The entries did not disappoint. Here are some of our favorites, with the story behind each shot.

Six months ago, when many of us put our lives on hold to isolate at home, enjoying nature in whatever way we could was a comfort and a distraction. Cooped up in my one-room apartment in Brooklyn, I watched for the occasional pigeon on my fire escape and walked down to the water every night to see cormorants fish. This became the highlight of my days. And I wasn’t alone. For our Bird from Home projectAudubon asked three professional wildlife photographers to document and write about birds in their yards or in their communities during this difficult year. (You can find their galleries in the menu above.) We then invited readers to share their own photos, and submissions came pouring in.

Narrowing down a pool of more than 8,000 photos to just 50 wasn’t an easy task; there were so many beautiful images with so much personality, encompassing an amazing range of species, habitats, and behaviors. We were especially moved and inspired to see people share their passion and appreciation for backyard birds that are so often overlooked. Thank you to everyone who submitted, and we hope you enjoy this selection of some of our favorites. — Lia Bocchiaro, Photo Editor

Behind the Shot: This bird was a new visitor to my yard this year, and unlike my other backyard birds, it was not thrilled about me being in the yard. I brought out my largest zoom lens and hid behind trees and lawn furniture to get a good shot. For many days he flew away at the first sight of me until one day, when he was unaware I was behind a large potted plant. I leaned out to get a better view while he leaned out to see what was behind the potted plant. I pressed my shutter button and held it down (this is what some would call “spray and pray”) and watched as he darted out of the yard. I was thrilled that the very first one I took was in focus and showed him peeking around the tree. Persistence is key when dealing with shy birds! —Rhonda Coe

Behind the Shot: We live on the outskirts of the Desert Wildlife Management Area, and this picture taken in our backyard illustrates why we love it so much. I used a Nikon D850 camera with a 200-500mm f/5.6 lens to capture these two birds in the sagebrush, while maintaining a decent distance so as not to startle the amazing animals that surround us daily. This White-crowned Sparrow was trying to share the spotlight with a California Quail, birds that litter the area where we live and have become our neighbors. In this instance, the quail was calling out, and I readied my camera for what I thought would be a wonderful picture of the quail when the sparrow decided to join. David J. Hutson

Behind the Shot: Usually Indigo Buntings only pass through our property in spring. This year I began to notice the lingering presence of some in the wild ferns and the abundant milkweed that thrive along our lake. As summer went on, it seemed that every time I went out for a walk (without my camera, of course), one vividly blue male would start singing and land only a few feet in front of me. I finally wised up, grabbed my camera, and set out to find the Indigo Bunting, or better yet, have it find me. Within moments of my walk, it appeared! It was an afternoon that I won’t soon forget. —Amy Kay

Behind the Shot: Truth be told, my backyard is constantly barraged by a flock of Mourning Doves that eat up all the seed in my feeder. Who knew they ate so much?! Mourning Doves are one of my favorite backyard birds to watch— their behavior, their wide eyes, and soft coos are welcome anytime (despite their huge appetites). Alyssa Bueno

Behind the Shot: Our yard is a Certified Backyard Habitat through the Portland Audubon and Columbia Land Trust, which means birds come more for the bugs and water rather than feeders. We had two Wilson’s Warblers regularly visiting the yard this spring. They spent most of the day foraging the native vine maples and flowering currants for bugs while taking the occasional bath. They are some of the more shy yard birds, so I would wait patiently outside with my camera to get a photo. I can’t help but anthropomorphize this image of a Wilson’s Warbler at the birdbath, as it looks like it’s going to cannonball! Jessica McConahay

Behind the Shot: I challenged myself to stay within a five mile radius of my home to bird this year. Stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic made that a worthy challenge. I spotted this Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at a park near my house. The males sport a striking line above the eye, which gives them that angry-but-cute look. Even at the end of April it was quite cold in the early mornings. Regardless, this bird hopped from branch to branch, masterfully catching small insects and fanning his tail as if to say hello. I marveled at his ability to poof up his feathers to conserve heat, while I shivered behind my camera, layered in wool and fleece. Emily Tornga

Behind the Shot: Every spring, Dark-eyed Juncos raise chicks beneath our overgrown photinia, but it wasn't until this year that I endeavoured to sit out and photograph them. While the juveniles keep to the thick brush, the parents flitted back and forth, collecting food and just as quickly shoveling it into a fledgling's mouth. Intermittently, a junco call audible from hundreds of feet deeper in the forest would send the father into a territorial frenzy, puffing up his feathers and calling his own challenges. Lisa Sproat


Behind the Shot: Frick Park in Pittsburgh is one of my favorite locations for birding. I was following a cardinal, and then I heard the sound of a Red-belled Woodpecker. The trees were lush and greenish with the overnight rains. That provided a perfect background. I was following the bird for an hour as I wanted to capture it against the darker tree bark and also get the pecking activity. Karthika Gopalakrishnan
Behind the Shot: While biking around my neighborhood, I discovered a small island in a lake behind a small shopping plaza with what must have been 100-plus birds. Among them were Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and more. Right along the edge of the island, among the vegetation, a small Green Heron caught my eye. Perched up on a rock, it patiently awaited its next meal by the water. Federico Acevedo

Behind the Shot: When the pandemic hit and my wife and I were in lock down, I began observing and photographing beautiful ducks near our home more closely, and found comfort in seeing them mingling with their social groups, feeding in the surf—their daily routines unchanged. I made these eider photographs while my wife and I were taking our two dogs (on leash) for an after-dinner walk along an area of Rhode Island’s rugged rocky coastline. 

It was challenging getting good photographs of the eiders. They could sense me from 50 yards away, and they would immediately begin moving further out in the water. This summer, for some reason, they were much more approachable. This group was between 20-30 yards from me when I took these photographs. Many times, the photograph picks up details I cannot see with my eyes. This sense of discovery when I look at the images after a bird walk makes birding and photographing birds even more exciting and addictive. Peter Goldberg


Behind the Shot: Despite how common Black-capped Chickadees are, I've never seen them in and around my neighborhood due to the lack of any old-growth trees or nesting cavities. However, one evening in May, I heard the unmistakable "cheeseburger" song coming from my neighbor's garden. I picked up my camera and ran out to my patio to see this adorable individual and a companion flitting through the foliage. Given how fast and unpredictably they were foraging and the dimming evening light, I really didn't have high expectations for the frames I was firing off—but for a brief moment one of them hung upside down off a sapling. As soon as I heard the shutter go down, I knew I'd captured it. This image, taken in the depths of the pandemic in Canada, gave me some hope. Having never seen chickadees in my neighborhood, I said to my dad, who was watering the flower bed at the time, "the birds are coming back." Ishira Fernando

Behind the Shot: Living in the city means we see many pigeons and sparrows. One day I noticed a male and female House Sparrow flying in and out of the weatherhead of our apartment building. They started flying in with bits of grass building a nest. The male would become upset whenever we opened the window and chirped angrily at us. One day, I decided to look out and try to capture him as he sat on the building and caught him looking at me sideways. Amelia Grande

Behind the Shot: Marshall Lake in North Park is my first go-to place for shooting herons. I was hoping to capture one hunting its prey, but after two hours of waiting, I couldn't find herons at all. I was about to start back home when I found a Herring Gull standing alone in the water. The pristine waters, striking white color of the bird, and the greener grasslands at the back inspired me to click. And the reflection in the water was spot on. I returned home with satisfaction, thinking "my Sunday is made." —Karthika Gopalakrishnan


Behind the Shot: At the end of my long wooded driveway are two dead trees high above the rest of the forest. These trees are a favorite for local Black and Turkey Vultures. I often walk down the driveway and see them perched there, but on this day, the sky was angry and overcast and the black bird with his feathers fanned out made for a very eerie and creepy feel. I love how you can see the textures of his feathers and how he was looking behind him among all the dead branches. Jessica Nelson


Behind the Shot: Birds have always been calming to me, but they've become my hope and healing in this challenging year. When I caught a glimpse of this male Scarlet Tanager catching moths near the forest floor, all I could think about was that color. To describe it as red does it a disservice. If you've been lucky enough to see one of these birds, then you know their plumage almost glows. I was absolutely captivated by his shimmering beauty. Emily Tornga


Behind the Shot: While I was in my wife's garden taking pictures of gardenia flowers, I saw a bird with a wide wingspan fly to a bald cypress tree next to a creek behind our property. I slowly approached the tree to investigate and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a Barred Owl. A few minutes later, another joined it after bathing in the creek below. The first owl started to preen the wet owl. I got very excited, so I started taking multiple pictures of this interaction that I have never witnessed before. I think I got carried away because I ended up with 172 photos of the two owls together. I chose this particular photo to post because of how the sunlight broke through the tree canopy and lit the face of one as the owls were about to touch beaks. Sebastian Tongson


Behind the Shot: I’m lucky because I live next to a river. Before the pandemic, I appreciated the river for its recreational opportunities, but I had never really seen it as a home for so much wildlife, especially birds. With the gift of more time, I spent many sunrises and sunsets on the river when animals are most active. It was like a whole new world opened up. I bought a longer lens for my camera and often planned to paddle out to the island in the middle of the river to see what I could capture. The island became a sanctuary for me. It had already been a sanctuary for the birds. This particular morning, I looked out of my window at this dream-like scene, sprung out of bed, and raced down to the river still wearing my pajamas. Seconds after I arrived, I spotted this heron coming in for a landing on the sunken tree. I was delighted with this particular shot. It looked as if the bird was floating over the water, conveying the magic of that moment. Emily Critcher


Behind the Shot: I was looking for herons at sunrise in this marshy area by a ferry terminal, but struck out. Opening my ears was a good move: a loud, buzzy trilling call in the reeds betrayed a boisterous Marsh Wren, dancing through the cattails in a typically energetic display. As he hopped up and down, some loose cattail seed heads clung to his feathers, producing a fluffy new hairpiece that glowed in the golden light. Lisa Sproat


Behind the Shot: This female robin was busy collecting nesting material while the male robin was on guard high in a tree watching her go back and forth to the nest. She would fly to the same area to collect mud and twigs to bring back, so I could anticipate her return. As she made her way back to the nest, she would often stop to gather lichen to add to the material she already carried in her beak. She always managed to fly it up to the nest and tuck it carefully into the nest. Margo Swainson


Behind the Shot: Birdwatching became my new hobby after COVID-19 shut down schools and isolated everyone at home. I found the time I spent birdwatching peaceful and satisfying. I noticed the Eastern Phoebe in my yard in May. It was a new visitor, but it got right to work preparing for its young. It was taking a break while nest building. A light rain had begun to fall, but it didn’t seem to mind. Anna Usry


Behind the Shot: I have a beautiful weeping cherry tree in my backyard that produces the most gorgeous light pink blossoms every late spring. Occasionally I see birds perch there as they make their way across the yard to the feeding station, but I have never been successful in capturing them in this tree during the blossom phase. So I decided to move the feeders closer to this tree. It took about a week for the birds to realize I had moved their favorite feeder. I waited on my deck for a few hours each day, and I was lucky enough to have caught this Tufted Titmouse sitting pretty for me among the flowers. Jessica Nelson

Behind the Shot: When I saw the three Canada Geese on the roof, I grabbed the camera and took some shots, laughing that they were all looking to their left. The birds in the middle and to the right turned their heads to the right, and I was hoping that the goose on the left would follow suit. I was sure that would never happen before one or all of them flew away. I waited and was thrilled when the last goose also turned to the right. I’m sure it heard me whispering, “turn your head, turn your head” over and over. Anne-Marie Wiggins


Behind the Shot: Wild Turkeys may not have the prettiest of faces, but their feathers are quite striking. When the resident turkeys first came to visit, I took photos through the glass patio doors as they were wary of our presence and would run away when they saw us. Now when the turkeys come around, they are very comfortable, perhaps even bold, and often spend many hours in the yard ignoring us completely. Anne-Marie Wiggins


Behind the Shot: Even though Song Sparrows are very common around our property, I still rarely pass by a good opportunity to photograph them. I knew that a pair were nesting near the wild raspberry bushes behind our house, and saw them flit through the air and disappear into the dense foliage. Fortunately for me, this little one hopped up on a stump and stayed long enough for me to grab a few shots. I was able to frame it between the greenery and adjust my settings to achieve the dreamy green surrounding. Amy Kay
Behind the Shot: I drove past the park one day and happened to see a small Burrowing Owl alongside the fence, and not too far was another one right by what looked like a small burrow. I went back the next day and to my surprise found a small population all throughout the park! Over the next couple of days I would return to photograph them in the morning—there must have been around 20 or so. Federico Acevedo


Behind the Shot: I’m an amateur photographer who has found great solace in feeding and photographing birds during the age of COVID-19. This spring, I had my camera set up semi-permanently in the kitchen so that I could snap photos of birds that came to my feeders. The STAR of these photo-sessions was a young, female woodpecker. She was unique and easily identified because of her brown wing feathers. She stopped by daily for her turn at the suet feeder, but she was also very distracted by her image in the windows. She would come to the sliding doors and peck on the glass and often spent hours pecking at her image in the rear-view mirror of my car. One day, as I was washing dishes, she seemed to be looking in to see what was going on inside. My camera was right there in the kitchen, and that’s how I got this shot!  Gloria Schoenholtz


Behind the Shot: I often take for granted the common birds that frequent my yard. The gentle cooing of Mourning Doves is just a normal background noise. This spring was very different than most. I was so thankful to have my backyard visitors to observe and photograph. Although it was challenging to capture this adorable pair in low light, I snuck as close as I could without disturbing them. It was beautiful to watch them preen each other. I knew that Mourning Doves commonly have strong bonds, but I have never witnessed this much affection between birds before. Christine Rice


Behind the Shot: Could this Northern Mockingbird look any more uncomfortable? These food-begging babies are House Sparrow fledglings that are now on their own. So, I guess they decided to beg and see if the Northern Mockingbird would feed them. The mockingbird was not swayed: It took that morsel of suet back to its own baby. I used an Audubon recipe for homemade suet that I found a couple of years ago. The birds absolutely LOVE it! Deborah Roy


Behind the Shot: Quarantine stay-at home restrictions allowed me to focus more on my backyard birds and notice the differences between birds of the same family. While I was used to seeing Song Sparrows all around my backyard, I was surprised to see this White-throated Sparrow. Its vibrant yellow head immediately caught my attention. After I captured this photo, I began to notice them more often and soon learned to identify their specific call. Caleb Jones


Behind the Shot: One day my dad decided to throw peanuts to the sparrows on the roof next door, so we could capture them flying in a safe manner. It was fun watching them hover and hop about the roof.  They struggled to eat the peanuts. Then one day, out of nowhere, a male Northern Cardinal with his bright red feathers, swooped in and began crunching down the peanuts with ease. We were all pretty excited to see the brightly colored bird so close. He would visit us two to three times a day for several weeks until we took a trip out of state. Sadly, since returning, we haven’t seen him back. Amelia Grande


Behind the Shot: We were coming to the end of a long morning walk in Humboldt Park in Chicago when we heard a little bit of rustling in the plants near the edge of the pond. We looked through the foliage and were just barely able to see a mother Mallard with a couple ducklings taking a break from the hot summer sun in the shade. The way the tree’s branches came together perfectly framed the mother, but if you look carefully you can still see the fluff of one of the ducklings in the reeds to the left. Christopher Erdos


Behind the Shot: Every spring, Cedar Waxwings migrate through on their way north. I am ready when they arrive. We have several winterberries planted near a birdbath. When I spotted them one morning, I immediately set up in a chair blind. I usually photograph from a “hide,” which is either a blind or my truck. The birds behave much more naturally that way. You have to be ready when they arrive, as a flock can strip a plant quickly. We use native plants that benefit wildlife. Something has berries every month. David D. Sloas 


Behind the Shot: Back in June, as a thunderstorm rolled in, two gulls landed on the roof of a nearby building. They did not seem interested in the peanuts we threw out for the cardinal, and one of the gulls ungracefully flew from one side of the rooftop to the next. As it took off, I tracked him with my camera taking several frames as he clumsily flew about. Soon after, the winds and rain picked up and both gulls took off. Amelia Grande


Behind the Shot: I jumped out of bed faster than ever when my partner told me there were Evening Grosbeaks at our backyard feeder. The morning light was still low and the sky was overcast, so getting a nice, crisp picture was very challenging. Because these birds are heavier than most that usually visit our yard, they were swinging the feeder quite a lot when landing, making for some blurry shots. Eventually, I managed to get this picture (despite not having a tripod) by resting my camera onto my window sill, with my 150-600 mm lens sticking out. It remains one of my favorite mornings of this crazy year. Simona Picardi


Behind the Shot: A juvenile Anna’s Hummingbird rears back its head, mouth spread wide as the mother delivers the fruits of her tireless efforts of zipping from flower to flower. The repetitive high-pitched cries of the hungry chick alerted me to its presence tucked just behind a cluster of leaves on the outer branch of a katsura tree. I perched in the cover of some nearby foliage and began to observe this fluffy little hummingbird. The cries began to intensify and the young bird hopped from the dense leaves onto an exposed branch. A few seconds later, the adult female hummingbird perched beside the chick and began to feed it. It was an incredible experience to be able to witness such an intimate and pure moment so up close and personal through the telephoto lens. —Steven Ditzler


Behind the Shot: Welcome to the world! I was so surprised to see this baby American Robin perched on a bench in my backyard.  For weeks we had been watching the parents tend to their nest in an evergreen right outside our living room window in the front yard. In a strange way, the pandemic helped us to appreciate what was in our own backyards. Kelly White


Behind the Shot: I visited the park early in the morning in hope to photograph something interesting.  It was on a weekend, in a quiet place. No one was around. There was a bridge through the pond. Suddenly a Green Heron landed on it. He was hanging around for some time, walking on the bridge and handrail. It really looked like he felt lonely and wanted company to "talk" and so I took a few pictures of him. Alexander Rayev


Behind the Shot: We had a late spring—the weather stayed cool, and I hadn’t seen many birds in the bird bath. The House Finches were the first to “dive in.” I love watching them ruffle their feathers and submerge themselves. In this image, it looks like Mr. Finch got some water in his ears. Mrs. Finch is looking at him like he is ridiculous! Sherry Rosen


Behind the Shot: The crows are hesitant to come into the yard while I am on the deck, but will perch on the fence observing the goings on if peanuts are present. I have been coaxing them into the yard by tossing peanuts closer to the fence, and occasionally one will decide the treat is worth the risk.  Crows are very observant, reacting quickly to sound and movement. This crow was about to brave the yard for a peanut when a jet flew overhead, causing him to turn his attention skyward and assess the threat. The crow actively tracked the movement of the jet for nearly a minute before turning his attention back to the peanut.Zora Dermer


Behind the Shot: There was a two-day window this May when it seemed like every migrating warbler passed through Michigan at once. The great thing about migration is that you don't have to travel far for it, because it comes to you. Lucky for me those two days were right before the American beech trees leafed out, affording beautiful views of this Magnolia Warbler in his fancy breeding plumage. I like to call them forest cupcakes, because in the spring they look like a beautifully decorated cupcake. I look forward to seeing them again soon on their journey south for the winter. Emily Tornga

Behind the Shot: This photo came very close to never happening. As I sought out the source of the rustling coming from the dimly lit tree line, I barely had time to click my shutter a single time before the bird-shaped shadow flew away. This was my first encounter with the species, and it was just as fulfilling as it was brief. As a person who is legally blind, finding birds is a particularly challenging task. Short of the brightly colored regulars, I rarely know what I’m looking at in real-time. My modest zoom lens and large computer monitor bridge the gap between my sight and my connection with the natural world. I use my photographic experience as a vehicle to learn about common species. As I observe and learn about their behavioral nuances, I can tell the stories of the individuals I encounter. Liz Bossoli

Behind the Shot: There is a tree in my backyard with a large cavity in the middle of the trunk. Many animals take refuge in this spot, especially when it is raining. I love that I was able to catch this Carolina Wren sitting still for a few minutes because these guys are so super fast. I also love the look on their faces and how they always look like angry little birds.Jessica Nelson

Behind the Shot: My apartment’s backyard became a regular stop for this particular hungry robin in the springtime. I watched as it hopped around putting its head so close to the ground listening and watching for movement. It was pure luck that I was able to catch this shot right as it tugged hard on this worm, struggling to pull it out of the ground. A few seconds later it gobbled the worm up and flew away very satisfied. Sarah Carey Hull

Behind the Shot: I captured this image of a drake Mallard as he was moving from one area of a pond to another. The pond is in a very large office park that is very close to home. The office park was designed to have ponds and walking trails at each of the buildings and is open to the public to enjoy. The trails lead you through and around wooded areas, flowering trees, pines, and hardwoods. There is also a creek that weaves through the entire property. Because of the availability of water, food, and shelter, there is an abundance of wildlife that have adapted to living in this area. Deborah Roy

Behind the Shot: The more time I spent watching my bird feeder in my backyard the more the birds grew comfortable with me. This sparrow landed a few feet from me to catch a bug. I love this picture because you can see it looking back at me with such curiosity. As an avid hiker I see many birds in their world but never considered it reached into mine in the city. Spending time watching them during quarantine I have discovered so much personality amongst these common backyard birds. Sarah Carey Hull

Behind the Shot: I enjoy photographing on rainy days because of the rich and vibrant colors from the environment. On this particular rainy day, a Bewick's Wren was foraging along my neighboring fence, and I waited for it to expose itself a bit more. It was a reasonable distance away from me, so having the teleconverter attached to my lens helped capture this intimate frame of it singing.  Edgar Molina
Behind the Shot: I’ve spent many hours listening and watching all of the birds that frequent our yard but never had I heard or seen a male Hooded Oriole. I was immediately drawn by its complicated song and was rewarded when I saw its stunning plumage. I quickly grabbed my camera and fired off several frames of it foraging through a maple tree. Its curious and funny pose is likely representative of what I must look like when searching for birds. Edgar Molina
Behind the Shot: I’d been watching this Wood Duck family for a couple days, as they swam along in one of the streams in the park. The group seemed more isolated from many Wood Duck families in other parts of the park. It was fun to see the little ducklings puttering around and falling over lily pads. The rest of the family had moved on, but this duckling seemed quite content to stay seated on this floating piece of bark. Christopher Erdos
Behind the Shot: Each morning starts with a quality walk with our pup. One particular morning we were greeted by our resident geese showing off their newborns to our neighborhood. I returned with my camera to catch this young gosling family enjoying their breakfast and exploring their world. I was able to take my time sitting in the grass nearby to watch and capture those curious fluff balls running, hopping, and playing. Mama and Papa Goose kept a close eye, allowing them to wander but calling them back if they went too far. As I watched the goslings tire out, one by one they snuggled up to Mama in the peace and comfort of her wing. I was grateful to share these moments with this feathered flock and made sure to take a break from looking through my lens to feel the excitement of discovery and the joy of family. Victoria Manieri