American Dippers. Photo: Kate Persons/Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon Photography Awards

Take a Peek Into Avian Family Life with These Cute Chick Pics

Prepare to “oohh” and “aww” over our favorite shots featuring baby birds from the 2022 Audubon Photography Awards.

Who doesn’t love a good baby bird photo? These 16 shots submitted to the 2022 Audubon Photography Awards are all cute, yes, but they also capture brief moments in the varied lives of young birds. Documenting both important milestones of development, like feather growth, and more entertaining moments, like hangry chicks, these photographs grant us a peek into the intimate relationships between parents and their young.

Taking photos of wildlife responsibly should always be a top priority, especially when it comes to parents and their offspring. The photographers featured below all kept bird safety at the forefront, using telephoto lenses and constantly observing birds for signs of stress. It’s extremely important to avoid approaching a nest or disturbing the birds. How might you know if you’re too close? To defend their young, some species will fly at your head and attempt to draw blood (looking at you, Common Tern), while others might try to lure potential predators away with deceptive behaviors, like the broken-wing display of a Killdeer. Snapping photos of baby birds using a blind or telephoto lens from a distance, combined with hypervigilance to any signs of anxiety, will allow you to photograph birds as safely as possible.

Although these 16 images may not have clinched a win in the 2022 awards (take time to peruse the overall winners and the Top 100 images), they were victorious in their unique captures. Continue reading to learn about each species’ breeding behavior—and prepare to gush over all these adorable baby birds

American Dipper (above) 

Water cascades over a rocky stream bed, but the strange scene in the middle steals the limelight: The head of a charcoal-colored bird disappearing down the mouth of a second bird. Wings spread wide for balance, with a stubby tail and gaping yellow mouth, a young American Dipper squawks demandingly at its parent while simultaneously receiving food. Photographer Kate Persons snapped this moment after two of the four chicks fledged the nest and both parents busily foraged to feed all four nestlings. North America’s only aquatic songbird, American Dippers will search for insects including mayflies, beetles, and mosquitoes by submerging their head or even diving underwater. Because they prefer cool, clear water for successful food capture, this species’ presence can be a useful indicator of water quality.

Mourning Dove

A Mourning Dove adult and juvenile sit on a branch, their gray-brown plumage somehow popping against the mossy-green tree canopy. Raindrops sparkle on the tips of blurred pine needles in the foreground—the only clue that photographer Rehna George captured this scene at the start of an evening rain shower. Mourning Doves inhabit most of the United States and Mexico year-round, readily adapting to human-altered landscapes. A common backyard bird, they thrive in disturbed roadsides and urban areas, as well as more natural grasslands and woods. They can raise six different broods per year—a record among native birds. Females lay just two eggs, incubating them for two weeks. After hatching, chicks fledge around two weeks but stick close by. Both parents will feed babies “pigeon milk,” a nutrient-rich liquid produced in an adult’s crop, switching to seeds when the chicks are older.

Western Gull

Bathed in golden sunrise light, a Western Gull chick, its head covered in black spots, holds what appears to be a fish dangling from its bill. Closer inspection of the image, as photographer Carmen Cromer discovered, reveals the object is a piece of plastic trash—a stark reminder of our impact on the natural world. Common denizens of the Pacific coast, from Baja to Washington, Western Gulls have a generalist diet,  foraging waste at human landfills, chicks and eggs from other seabird colonies, insects, and fish scraps caught by other birds and marine mammals. Western Gulls nest on the ground in predator-free areas, amid low-lying vegetation or rocky terrain. Females typically lay three eggs, which hatch after four weeks. Chicks are semi-precocial, running around freely after one week. Feathers emerge 15 days after hatching, which ages the chick here at 2–3 weeks old, based on the tiny nubbins of wing feathers. 

Eastern Screech-Owl

Look too quickly, and you just might miss the chick in this image. Below the ruddy face of an Eastern Screech-Owl peering out of its round tree hole, the head of an owlet pokes out, only the yellow eyes and curved bill visible. Most Eastern Screech-Owls are gray, with only 30 percent boasting red plumage like that of the adult owl in this photo. Both color morphs inhabit the same region, and will even breed. Mates pair for life, rearing young together and roosting together when not breeding. Females do the heavy lifting during incubation, but the male will bring food to his mate to compensate. Although nestlings, like the one in this photo, leave their nest cavity 4 weeks after hatching, their parents continue to feed them for an additional 8 to 10 weeks. 

Western Kingbird

All lined up, four hungry juvenile Western Kingbirds sit on a wire, squawking at their parent and energetically demanding food. Outnumbered, the adult kingbird can only feed one chick at a time. Wings outstretched for balance while gripping the wire, the parent stretches its head forward to place a large grasshopper in the open mouth of the closest fledgling. Unlike some of the other species featured here, Western Kingbird youngsters look remarkably like their parents, complete with a gray breast and lemon-yellow belly. However, they lack their parents’ bright red crests that flare when aggressively protecting their territory. Kingbird chicks start to grow their feathers within five days after hatching, and will molt—dropping feathers and growing fresh ones—into their darker, adult plumage between fledging and their return to breed the following year.

Gentoo Penguin

Captured mid-stride, with wings extended for balance, two juvenile Gentoo Penguins, their white breasts still covered in down, trail behind an adult penguin sporting sleek black and white feathers. The three birds run along the rocky terrain of Bleaker Island in the Falkland Islands, where photographer Lin Teichman encountered a comical spectacle: After the adult penguins emerged from foraging in the sea, they would rush to locate and feed their nestlings in the rookery—only to be mobbed by chicks aggressively demanding the krill and fish, like these two juveniles. Gentoo Penguins breed across the Antarctic Peninsula and numerous sub-Antarctic islands, and their diet varies greatly among colonies. Proficient predators, they chase after prey, diving as deep as 450 feet for fish. Penguin youngsters enter the sea for the first time 70 days after hatching, but remain dependent on parental feeding while they learn to catch their own meals.

Barn Swallow

Three juvenile Barn Swallows perch on a dead, desiccated flower stalk, snapped in half from the mass of the birds. To the right of the frame, gracefully in flight with wings fully outstretched, an adult Barn Swallow places a morsel of food in one of the lucky youngster’s mouths. The blue head and back feathers of all, the white breasts of the juveniles, and the ruddy face of the adult bird contrast sharply with the green background.
Barn Swallows. Photo: Rehna Manavalan George/Audubon Photography Awards
Three juvenile Barn Swallows perch on a dead, desiccated flower stalk that has snapped in half. With its wings gracefully outstretched, an aloft adult Barn Swallow places a tiny morsel of food in a lucky youngster’s mouth. The blue head and back feathers, white breast, and ruddy face of the adult bird provide a glimpse of the striking plumage these chicks will soon sport. Common in rural areas, Barn Swallows construct nests of mud and dried grass almost exclusively on human-made structures, such as under the eaves of houses, bridges, or their namesake barns. Old nests still in decent shape from the previous year get snagged early the following breeding season. Although one clutch a year is typical, more experienced females start breeding earlier and can rear two broods. 

Piping Plover

The warm glow of a setting sun softly illuminates a Piping Plover parent and its downy chick. Nearly camouflaged against the sand save for the bright orange base of its bill, the adult keeps a watchful eye on any potential predators—including photographer William Pully, who snapped this endearing photo on Plum Island, Massachusetts. Both male and female Piping Plovers help select the nest site, usually just a small scrape or depression in the sand above the high tide line. Often, they build multiple scrapes within their territory, taking up to 10 days to select a final site as the winner. Males and females also share incubation and brooding duties. However, female Piping Plovers abandon their family within a few days of hatching, leaving the male to guard young.

Common Goldeneye