Cuddle up With These Ridiculously Cute Baby Bird Photos

Our favorite chick pics from the 2023 Audubon Photography Awards feature familiar and secretive species at peak charm.
Two downy, white-and-gray Barred Owl chicks sit on top of a brick chimney, exquisitely framed by the rust-red metal cap that covers it. The owlets’ large black eyes peer out from their white, heart-shaped faces.
Barred Owls. Photo: Brandon Finnorn/Audubon Photography Awards

A booby with a downy crown. A fuzzy pile of ducklings. Anhinga chicks slurping down food. These images from the 2023 Audubon Photography Awards highlight young birds at their most adorable and awkward, as well as private moments between parents and their offspring.

These scenes also depict critical periods when birds are particularly susceptible to disturbance and predation. That’s why the photos featured here, like all submissions to the contest, are carefully reviewed for ethical rigor. These photographers used telephoto lenses for dramatic close-up portraits, took care to avoid approaching nests, and watched out for any signs that the birds were under stress. In other words, they put the birds’ well-being ahead of capturing the perfect image. 

There’s plenty more to enjoy from this year’s awards, including our favorite videos, photos of female birds, and images of birds with the native plants they depend on. And don’t forget to check out the stunning overall winners and the top 100 images.

Meanwhile, scroll on to enjoy some adorable chick pics and learn a thing or two about avian breeding behavior. Hungry for more? Peruse our favorite baby bird photos from the 2021 and 2022 Audubon Photography Awards.

Barred Owl (above)

Photographer Brandon Finnorn spent four years observing a Barred Owl pair nesting in the unused chimney of a historic house at Fairview-Riverside State Park in Louisiana. At last he captured this image of two owlets peering out at him from beneath the chimney’s metal cap. Young Barred Owls venture from the nest at approximately 4 to 6 weeks, but they still rely on parents for food and won’t start flying until they’re nearly 10 weeks old. Until then, they walk across branches and can climb trees—or chimneys—by grasping bark or other surfaces with their bills and talons while pumping their wings for balance. 


Four yellow-and-brown downy Mallard ducklings, each with a brown crown and dark eye stripe, cuddle together in a grassy nest. All but one duckling keeps a watchful eye on the photographer.
Photo: Nick Teague/Audubon Photography Awards

Who can resist a puddle of downy ducklings? Photographer Nick Teague surely couldn’t—he waded through deep mud and pressed himself to the ground to capture this group of four young Mallards sleeping. One of the world’s most abundant ducks, Mallards inhabit a wide range of habitats in North America, from wetlands and ponds to city parks and backyards. Like many duck species, mated males often pursue other females and force copulations, a behavior that yields hybrids with American Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, and other duck species. 

Western Gull

Covered in fluffy gray and black-spotted down, a Western Gull chick sits in brown grasses, its back to the photographer. The midday sun illuminates the chick’s outline in a brilliant white, standing out against the blue ocean sparkling in the background.
Photo: Camille Stewart/Audubon Photography Awards

A familiar species along the Pacific Coast, the Western Gull’s breeding range stretches from Washington State to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, and overlaps with Glaucous-winged Gulls in the Pacific Northwest, where the two hybridize extensively. Western Gulls nest in fewer than 200 colonies, and 30 percent of the total population breeds on Southeast Farallon Island, California. Farther south, photographer Camille Steward snapped this floofy young gull’s portrait at La Jolla Cove, California. It’s among the sites where opportunistic Western Gulls nest near sea lion colonies to scavenge sea lion pups that don't survive. 

American Crow

The jet-black heads of two American Crows pop against a blurred, leafy green background. The adult, on the left, uses its bill to preen the feathers on the juvenile crow on the right.
Photo: Tom Reese/Audubon Photography Awards

A jet-black adult American Crow uses its bill to preen the short feathers on the forehead of a juvenile, whose gray eyes and reddish mouth will darken over the coming weeks. Widespread across the continent, American Crows are highly adaptable but prefer to nest in a fork among the top third of an evergreen tree. Females lay up to nine eggs and shoulder most of the incubation duties. But as with other corvids, both parents feed the young, with help from previous years’ siblings. Photographer Tom Reese captured this tender moment in his Seattle backyard, emphasizing that careful attention can yield amazing avian encounters even in the most familiar places.

Black Skimmer

A bird with black wings, white body and a red-and-black bill, flies across the beach. The head of a silvery fish is clasped tightly in its bill, which a gray, downy chick grasps by the tail, its feet lifting off the sand as it fights to hold onto the food
Photo: Anke Frohlic/Audubon Photography Awards

Talk about determination: On a Long Island, New York, beach, this hungry young Black Skimmer tightly grips a fish in its bill, even as a much stronger adult begins to carry the chick away. The adult is probably not the chick’s parent, which would have landed to present the fish to its unrelenting youngster. When skimmer chicks hatch, the lower and upper mandibles are the same length, so they can easily consume the food delivered by their parents. By the time fledglings start flying a month later, the lower mandible extends a half-inch beyond the upper—a bill shape more like an adult’s, and ideal for skimming the water’s surface to catch prey. 

Clapper Rail

A juvenile Clapper Rail, gray except for a black head and a black vertical line of feathers visible across its chest, stands on the edge of a muddy bank, with tall, green marsh grass blurred in the background.
Photo: Michael Riccio/Audubon Photography Awards

Clapper Rails are extremely reclusive and usually identified only by their distinctive clattering cackle, so this fledgling surprised photographer Michael Riccio when it emerged from the marsh grass by a New Jersey tidal creek. Males build elevated nests—with ramps to allow easy entry—in clumps of vegetation to avoid tidal flooding, but even eggs submerged during extremely high tides can still hatch. Clapper Rails brood their young and carry them on their backs when crossing deeper water. Once the chicks reach one week old, the adult male and female separate, each taking responsibility for half of the nestlings. Clapper Rails fledge after 6 weeks but can’t fly until 10 weeks, when they look nearly indistinguishable from adults.

Pygmy Nuthatch

A small, brown-and-gray Pygmy Nuthatch with a creamy breast grips the rough bark of a tree trunk beside a dark, round hole in the tree. The head of a chick fills the cavity opening, begging for food with its bright yellow bill open wide.

A tiny Pygmy Nuthatch grips the deeply grooved bark of a tree trunk, resting for a brief moment after feeding its chick. Still hungry, the nestling begs for more food, its yellow mouth gaping wide. Photographer Ashrith Kandula captured this duo at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in California, using the adult’s squeaky, rubber-ducky calls to locate the teensy nest cavity high in a pine tree. Though adults commonly eat pine nuts—their namesake food source—they mostly feed chicks protein-rich insects. Pygmy Nuthatches are among the handful of North American songbirds that breed cooperatively: Several adults—usually male offspring from previous years—help the parents feed young and defend the nest.


A brown adult Limpkin, with a long, curved bill, stands in a shallow blue pond over its downy brown chick. Both birds are focused on an apple snail in front of them and the young chick’s long bill is opened slightly, ready to receive the tender meat the parent pulls from the snail.
Photo: Irina Pigman/Audubon Photography Awards

Found on Caribbean islands and throughout Central and South America, Limpkins in North America are most reliably viewed in Florida, where photographer Ira Ochomma snapped this special moment at Myakka River State Park. Standing ankle deep in Myakka Lake, this adult pries tender meat from an apple snail—the species’s almost exclusive prey—as a downy chick opens its bill, ready to receive the small morsel. Limpkins forage during the day with a specialized bill that remains slightly opened at the tip, acting like tweezers for easy snail removal. Chicks start extracting snails around five weeks old, but still beg for food from parents for several more weeks.


The tawny, downy necks of two Anhinga chicks entwine as they jostle to receive food from the darker-colored parent to the right of the frame. Both chicks appear to have their mouths inside the adult’s mouth, but one chick’s neck is more engorged.
Photo: Scott Dere/Audubon Photography Awards

The raucous cries of chicks alerted photographer Scott Dere to a nest site at Green Cay Wetlands in Florida, where he found an Anhinga recently returned from foraging. Here the tawny, downy necks of two chicks entwine as they jostle for food from their parent. Both nestlings have their heads inside the adult male’s mouth, but one chick’s engorged neck indicates it outcompeted its sibling. Adult female Anhingas have a tan head and neck, whereas males like this one have an entirely black body except for silvery-white streaks on the back and wings. Males primarily build the nest and feed females during incubation, but both parents forage and regurgitate fish and invertebrates to nestlings.

Baltimore Oriole

A male Baltimore Oriole stands on a horizontal branch, its fiery orange breast and black plumage contrasting sharply with the olive-green background. Next to him sit two juvenile orioles, their faces turned toward each other and bills open, mid-squawk.
Photo: Barb D'Arpino/Audubon Photography Awards

Baltimore Oriole chicks leave the nest two weeks after hatching, but they continue to beg for food from their parents. They are particularly insatiable during the week after they fledge, much like the youngsters here appearing to compete for attention from an adult male with a fiery orange breast. Though males try to breed in their first season, they generally aren’t successful and won’t grow their characteristic bright feathers until their second year. Females build woven, hanging-orb nests in older trees—mostly American elm before Dutch elm disease, now mainly American sycamore and cottonwood—and incubate eggs, though both parents feed protein-rich insects to the young.

American Coot

Encircled by a curtain of protective vegetation, a black American Coot with its distinctive red eye ring and white bill and frontal shield, sits on a nest of woven dead brown marsh grasses. Barely visible at the base of the adult’s breast, a small chick angles its red-colored face and bill up at the parent.
Photo: Gani Agabin/Audubon Photography Awards

Peeping out from a nest woven from dead marsh grasses, a downy black-and-orange American Coot chick gazes up at its parent. Coots breed throughout North America, even into the Northwest Territories, and can rear two broods a year in warmer climes. Most nests contain 6 to 11 eggs, but females sometimes lay eggs in the nests of other coots, ducks, or gulls. Young coots can swim soon after hatching—like this youngster, still damp from a recent foray—but parents feed them small bits of vegetation, insects, and algae, and brood them in a nest-like platform at night.

Blue-footed Booby

A young Blue-footed Booby covered in chocolate brown feathers, with wisps of white down still clinging to the top of its head and bill, stares directly at the camera.
Photo: Sophia Irvin/Audubon Photography Awards

A curious young Blue-footed Booby stares directly at photographer Sophia Irvin, who snapped this portrait using a telephoto lens on Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Islands. Females lay one to three eggs in nest scrapes on bare ground and chicks hatch several days apart. Chicks are completely naked when they hatch, but soon sport a coating of fuzzy white down before they grow the more mature brown plumage. Don’t let this youngster’s innocent-looking face fool you: During periods of food scarcity, an older, larger Blue-footed Booby chick sometimes kills a younger sibling by pecking it and pushing it out of the nest. 

Canada Goose

A Canada Goose gosling, covered in pale gray down, stretches its neck to grasp a green leaf in its black bill. A second gosling, appearing eagerly interested in the potential food, stands to the left in the background, slightly out of focus.
Photo: Michael Ristau/Audubon Photography Awards

Widespread across North America, Canada Geese breed in all but the southernmost United States. Eleven subspecies of Canada Goose were once recognized, but in 2004 the American Ornithologists’ Union grouped the smallest four into a separate species: Cackling Goose. Canada Geese practice assortative mating, with both sexes choosing mates that are similar in size. The female selects the nest site, building an elevated bowl of dry grasses and mosses close to water, where she can lay up to 11 eggs. Within two days of hatching, young geese leave the nest and begin foraging for their own food, including seeds, grasses, and other bits of vegetation, as with the curious gosling here.

Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron, black crown feathers splayed elegantly upright and gray chest plumes fanned out, stands in a large, twiggy nest. Two downy heron chicks sit in the nest, one attempting to swallow a snake that the parent offers from its bill.
Photo: Cami Marculescu/Audubon Photography Awards

A common wading bird across most of North America, the Great Blue Heron looks especially majestic during breeding season. Here an adult shows off its elegantly splayed black crown feathers and gray, fanned-out ornamental chest plumes. The bird stands in a large, twiggy nest over two still-downy chicks, whose coloration looks remarkably similar to their parent’s. One nestling stretches its neck upward, trying to swallow a southern watersnake that the parent gently offers from its bill. After the chicks made several unsuccessful attempts to swallow the snake, photographer Cami Marculescu watched the parent eat it and then feed smaller, regurgitated chunks to the hungry nestlings.

Sandhill Crane

A fuzzy orange Sandhill Crane chick walks across a grassy field. Sticky green seeds are embedded in its white chest down, and a lone seed is attached to its face.
Photo: Lyssa Koo/Audubon Photography Awards

Photographer Lyssa Koo flattened herself to the ground to capture this fetching image: A fuzzy orange Sandhill Crane chick struts across a grassy field with sticky green seeds embedded in its downy white chest and face. Young cranes, called colts because of their long legs, can leave the nest within hours of hatching, but rely on parents for food until they learn to forage for insects, aquatic plants, and even snails and lizards. They stick with adults for 9 to 10 months, migrating as a family before separating the following spring.