Audubon Photography Awards

The 2021 Audubon Photography Awards: Top 100

Scroll through these superb images that feature birds in all their varied glory, and find out the backstory behind each shot.

This year more than 2,000 photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted images to Audubon magazine's 12th annual Audubon Photography Awards, and our panel of expert judges whittled down the entries to eight stunning winners and five honorable mentions. With more than 9,000 photographs entered in the contest, there was an abundance of exceptional avian images from which we selected 100 additional shots to share.

Displayed in no particular order, these photos feature birdlife at its most vivid, vulnerable, formidable, and playful. There are intimate portraits that reveal exquisite details, action shots that capture powerful raptors on the hunt, and arresting images that celebrate a wide array of bird behavior. So settle in and prepare to be enchanted with the beauty and variety of birdlife and impressed by the resourcefulness of bird photographers.

And if you’re inspired to pick up a camera and pursue avian subjects of your own, our photography section has everything you need to get started, including tips and how-to'sAudubon's ethical guidelines for wildlife photography, and gear recommendations. Next year, it could be your shot that makes the cut. 

1. Black-necked Stilts by Jack Zhi

A fuzzy, mottled Black-necked Stilt chick stands beneath its more obvious parent, which has a white underbelly and black and brown back. The adult stands in profile, a clump of green grasses
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine, CA

  • Camera: Sony a9 II with a Sony 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and 1.4x Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I had set my gear on the mud at the water’s edge to get a low angle and was looking down at my flip-out LCD screen when this little Black-necked Stilt emerged from behind the reeds with its mother. I took a few shots as the chick struggled to stand up, catching this perfect moment when mama caught the little one with her foot.

2. Baltimore Oriole by Sharon Dobben

An orange-and-black Baltimore Oriole sings from its perch on an eastern white pine branch. The bird is small against a blue sky filled with white clouds, but its vibrant colors make it stand out against the sky and tree’s green needles.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Flossmoor, IL

  • Camera: Canon EOS 80D with a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/5; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Last May spring migration was an especially welcome distraction during the COVID-19 shutdown. On this day, I spotted a warbler in the yard, grabbed my camera, and hustled outside, but a Baltimore Oriole singing its heart out distracted me. I spotted it three backyards away perched on a high branch of a tall eastern white pine. I got two quick shots before he flew off, and only this one was in focus. I was grateful to have captured the oriole’s orange and black against the greens and blues of the trees, shadows, and sky. Hearing the oriole singing that evening was just what I needed.

3. Red-headed Woodpecker by Vance Solseth

The frame is divided in two, and the left side provides an out-of-focus background. On the right is a barkless light tan snag riddled with insect holes. In the center of the tree is a large hole where a Red-headed Woodpecker peeks out. Its red head—the only visible part of its body—is cocked to the side.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lake Murray, Lexington, SC

  • Camera: Sony a7III with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: Out on the lake near my home, snags on several small islands house nesting birds in the spring and early summer. I kayaked out early one morning, hid my boat under a tree, and set up my blind so I could see a cavity where Red-headed Woodpeckers were making a nest. I stayed as far away and as quiet as possible so as not to disturb their behavior. I love this frame because the bird looks so inquisitive as it scans its surroundings.

4. Green Heron by Ilai Porat

Olive-and-emerald-green feathers fold over each other in a close-up shot of the back of a Green Heron. Only a small section of its body is pictured. Yellow-edged feathers on its side provide depth to the image. Bubbles from the water in which the bird is standing appear as globes, with bright green plants focused in the foreground.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers, FL

  • Camera: Nikon D7500 DSLR with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: As I walked through a Florida wetland, I noticed this Green Heron standing silently and completely still near the water. The bird was very close to the trail and had no fear of me, so I was able to zoom in on its feathers. It was the first time I had really seen the green feathers on its back and was finally able to understand how the bird got its name. These herons are also really small, so I felt extremely privileged to have been able to view one from so close.

5. American Woodcock by Alexander Eisengart

An American Woodcock, its outstretched wings high behind it, stands in brown fallen leaves that reflect its buff color. Its long bill points to the ground in profile, with a blurred stone background lined with dead orange leaves behind it.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Cleveland, OH

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a6400 with a Sony E 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: The American Woodcock is my favorite bird, and I made it my mission to photograph one. I looked at eBird and found people reporting the species at a cemetery in the middle of the city. I entered the concrete jungle to find a small oasis: a graveyard that teemed with life during migration season. Only a few minutes after entering this green space, I found the woodcock despite its insane camouflage. I hid behind a tree and snapped photos as it put on a show, flapping its wings as if to show off its beauty.

6. Allen's Hummingbird by Eric J. Smith

An Allen’s Hummingbird looks up, it’s beak like a spear pointing to the upper right-hand corner of the frame. The bird’s brown neck feathers look like striated scallops that lead up to the beak, on which a tiny fig wasp rests. The hummingbird appears to look at its hitchhiker.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: As the COVID-19 pandemic raged last summer, so did wildfires in southern California. Stuck at home alone with an air conditioner on the fritz, I had breakfast on my deck every morning, where I saw a single Allen’s Hummingbird perched on the branch of my potted olive tree. The bird became a regular, and I started bringing my camera with the morning coffee. On this day I noticed something on the hummingbird’s beak. The bird flew away and returned a half a dozen times without shaking the object. When I reviewed the photos, I realized a fig wasp had hitched a ride. It was a moment of wonder and delight in a season of dark times.

7. Northern Mockingbird by Katrina Baker

A Northern Mockingbird perches on a small branch of a tree, its legs fully extended. The bird’s body faces the camera with its head turned to the side and one eye staring intently at the lens. The bird’s muted grays and browns helps it to blend in with the tree’s branches, while the surrounding green and yellow foliage provides contrasts.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Eighty Four, PA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: Sitting quietly in my backyard watching and occasionally photographing birds in a nearby tree, I noticed this Northern Mockingbird acting on its natural territorial instinct. Whenever another bird landed on a nearby branch, it would swoop, hop, or scold until the intruder departed. When the mockingbird seemed to notice me across the yard, it hopped onto the arch of this branch, stood tall, and turned its commanding gaze in my direction. It didn’t seem to mind me capturing photos, but that intense stare made it clear the tree was off-limits.

8. Brown Booby by Lawrence Worcester

A Brown Booby flies toward the camera over a rocky beach with its wings extended, twisting to shake off water mid-air. Tiny water droplets fly in all directions, creating a halo of shining beads around the bird in flight. In the background, a steep green cliff rises above the sandy rocks and sea foam to meet a partly cloudy sky.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pasture Bay, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/5; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Brown Boobies feasting on schooling fish barely had time to shake off water when surfacing before going back at it. This was the only time I witnessed one of the birds shudder its full body, and while flying directly at me. I was pretty sure I had gotten the split-second action that I worked so hard to capture. The word “booby” derives from the Spanish word bobo, meaning foolish and sometimes clumsy. This clearly refers to their walk and not their flight!

9. Harlequin Ducks by Matthew Reitinger

Three Harlequin Duck drakes face outward in opposite directions from a central point at the center of the image. Only their black-and-white heads and necks are visible as a splash is suspended in the air around them.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Barnegat Light State Park, NJ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/800 second at f/8.0; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: One cold January morning, I walked along the jetty looking for ducks when I spotted a few Harlequin Ducks swimming near the rocks. I struggled to find a suitable perch that wasn’t too slippery so I could get as low to the water as possible. Once I found one, I settled in and waited for the ducks to approach. When they did, one of them moved suddenly, causing them to splash, a moment I captured in this image.

10. Sandhill Crane by Xianwei Zeng

A Sandhill Crane looks out over a field of yellow and white wildflowers in the rain, its yellow eye matching the blooms. The bird’s long neck extends beyond the plants, its red-capped head is turned to the left.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2X III; 1/160 second at f/11; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: Tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes stopover in southern Ontario in the fall before migrating to the southern United States and Mexico. They roost in local marshes, fly to harvested corn and grass fields in the early morning to feed, and then return to roost in the afternoon. One morning during a heavy downpour, several Sandhill Cranes fed in a field filled with wildflowers. Whenever possible, I try to get eye-level shots when photographing birds, so I got out of my car, set up my tripod to get a lower angle, and quickly snapped this beautiful portrait.

11. Great Egrets by Xianwei Zeng

Great Egret parents stand in a nest made of sticks, wispy feathers coming off their backs and their necks crisscrossing as they bend low to feed three fuzzy chicks. Two of the chicks raise their yellow bills up to receive a regurgitated meal from a parent.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Xiangshan Forest Park, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Hundreds of Great Egrets return to eastern China’s Xiangshan Forest Park in early spring to breed, building their nests high in fir trees. The rivers and lakes nearby provide abundant fish to feed the birds and their chicks. Two years ago, I spent three weeks there observing and photographing the Great Egrets. Females lay one to six eggs, and both mates take turns incubating them, and, once they hatch, feeding the newborns. In order to get low-angle shots, I stood on a farmer’s house. I usually saw only one parent feeding the chicks at a time, but on this rainy day both adults fed the babies simultaneously. I quickly snapped a few shots of the family in one frame.

12. White Ibis by Kelley Luikey

A White Ibis, brilliant white with just a touch of black on the wingtips, stands on a maple tree branch, its bright red legs and bill matching the red leaves. Thousands of tiny flying insects backlit by the late afternoon sun fill the frame like snow.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Audubon Swamp Garden, Charleston, SC

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1000 at f/4; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: As a bird photographer in the South, I deal with biting, swarming, and stinging bugs year-round. On this early March afternoon, though, the bugs became part of the scene. I arrived at one of my favorite rookeries, set up my camera, and took a peek in the viewfinder to find thousands of bugs backlit and framed by the glowing red samaras of a maple tree. Within a few minutes, a White Ibis in bright breeding colors landed on a branch. I framed it with the tree in the foreground and the fairy-like bugs floating all around.

13. Trumpeter Swans by Lisa Sproat

A group of five snowy white Trumpeter Swans stand in a circle in a lush green field. Necks erect, beaks agape, and wings open, they face each other as if around a dinner table. Several haven't even finished their last mouthful of grass.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Skagit County, WA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: In the fall thousands of Trumpeter Swans fly south from their summer breeding grounds to make Skagit Valley's agricultural fields their winter home. The swans eat voraciously, picking through fields that stain their white feathers muddy brown. This group was feeding quietly when the pair on the left made a grab for their neighbors' patch. Mouths full, they beat their wings and honked in unison. The resident group stood its ground and displayed right back, looking like family arguing over a holiday dinner. With one vicious bite, the residents prevailed, and the field grew quiet again.

14. Lappet-faced Vulture by Staci Winston

A Lappet-faced Vulture holds up one wing in front of its pink head, one eye looking at the camera through a slit in the long wing feathers extending down.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, MO

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/8000 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: My initial interest in this fascinating bird was its intense presence, large size, hooked sharp beak, and bright-pink-and-purple hues on its face. I spent an hour photographing this vulture, and my husband and I were mostly alone at its exhibit. Near the end of the shoot, the vulture jumped to the ground and spread its wings along its side. It peeked through a gap in the feathers and locked a single intense eye on my camera. I hope people viewing this image will be intrigued to learn more about this bird and its importance as a scavenger in nature.

15. Western Sandpiper by Rick Evans

A Western Sandpiper bathes in the shallow water of an estuary. Water beads up in lacy patterns rolling off its brown-and-white feathers. The bird’s eye is nearly closed, and the whole scene has a dreamlike quality from low fog subduing the sunlight and surrounding the bird with a soft, cloudy background.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Santa Clara River Estuary, Ventura, CA

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens and Urth 95mm Circular Polarizer; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: One cool January morning I went to the beach with the intention of photographing flocks of shorebirds flying along the coast, but a dense fog came up from the south. I shifted gears and moved over to a nearby estuary where I found Sanderlings, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Plovers, Western Sandpipers, and a Killdeer feeding and preening. The fog filled up the whole area and really softened the sunlight. All the photos I took began to take on a silky, dreamy vibe. The birds looked like they were bathing in a cloud.

16. Red-winged Blackbird by Walter Potrebka

An adult female Red-winged Blackbird sings while grasping a fuzzy cattail flower with her claw. The early morning light illuminates her beautifully streaked brown body and the subtle yellowy red color found along her shoulders and near her eye. The morning sun reflects in her eye and her open beak. You can almost hear her song.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Portage la Prairie Spillway Park, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 2X; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: On a June day I went to photograph American White Pelicans, but none were to be found. Disappointed, I walked back to my vehicle and heard Red-winged Blackbirds calling from a marshy area. This female was landing on various cattails nearby. I waited for almost an hour for her to land on one that would give the image a nicely blurred background and show off her shoulder’s splash of red—colorization that is typically difficult to capture. While the males are usually flashier, the females often demonstrate a more subtle beauty.

17. White-breasted Nuthatch by Ashrith Kandula

A male White-breasted Nuthatch stands sideways in a cavity in a red maple tree. The profile of the blue-and-white nuthatch fills the hole where his mate makes a nest inside the tree, which is covered in gnarled brown-, ivory-, and oatmeal-colored bark.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Wallingford, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x II Teleconverter; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: On a walk around my neighborhood, I spotted a cavity in a red maple tree and noticed a pair of nuthatches using it. The female went inside, and the male made frequent trips to and from the tree, bringing her nest material. I managed to catch the moment when the male stood sideways in the entrance, his body fitting perfectly in the hole, the tree’s beautifully textured bark surrounding him.

18. Golden-fronted Woodpecker by Danny Hancock

A Golden-fronted Woodpecker perches on a rock and dips its bill in the water, exposing red-and-yellow head feathers. Concentric rings emanate from his bill as he drinks, the only things disrupting his reflection in the golden water.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/5; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: In Palo Duro Canyon, water is a valuable and important resource—and a magnet for birds. When I heard a Golden-fronted Woodpecker make harsh, raspy calls, I prepared to rip off a few shots. He arrived a few minutes later and went straight to the water. I faced him head-on and was lucky to capture this photograph of him drinking with his bill just touching the surface, forming neat water rings.

19. Sharp-tailed Grouse by David Slikkers

Against the blank white canvas of a snow-covered field, two Sharp-tailed Grouse fight on their lek. On the right, an airborne grouse, its wings to its sides, appears to have launched itself at its competitor’s neck. On the left, the other grouse leans back on its tail, its legs pushing against the ground and its outstretched wings behind it.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pickford, MI

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/6400 second at f/7.1; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: When I had an opportunity to photograph a Sharp-tailed Grouse last year, I was amazed at their aggressive behavior and the action on the lek. Approximately 10 male grouse gathered, but it wasn’t until one female showed up that they began biting and pulling out each other’s feathers in a fight for dominance. The camera caught so many more details than I thought possible. It was incredible to watch it take place, and we had front-row seats in my blind. I was thrilled to have captured it on film.

20. Sanderlings by Nadia Haq

A row of 18 tiny, mostly white Sanderlings run toward the beach to avoid an incoming wave. In this black-and-white image, the birds’ black bills and legs stand out against the mottled gray waves behind them and the flat, sandy shore in front of them.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Refuge Beach, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newbury, MA

  • Camera: Nikon D810 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor f/4 500mm lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 280

  • Behind the Shot: On a gloomy and cold December day, my husband and I took our then-7-year-old son to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge so we could get a much-needed nature outing during the pandemic. We spotted a flock of Sanderlings scampering on the shore looking for food, and we quickly forgot about the weather. The cute little birds made us giddy, and we sat down side by side with our own separate cameras. I was overjoyed and proud to have my son capturing bird photos next to me.

21. Rhinoceros Auklets by Rhys Logan

Surrounded by rippling water colored golden by the sunset, two silhouetted Rhinoceros Auklets swim side by side in a bay, their profiles showing their horn-like bills.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Chuckanut Bay, WA

  • Camera: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens; 1/8000 second at f/2.8; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: I had never seen a Rhinoceros Auklet in person before, perhaps because they’re nocturnal and typically nest in hard-to-access places. When I encountered these two while kayaking, I was surprised by their penguin-like appearance (deceptive because they’re related to puffins). After the raucous din of thousands of nearby gulls calling and diving around me subsided, these two auklets calmly checked me out, seemingly relaxed and enjoying the sunset as much as I was. I was amazed to learn that every year their “horns” grow in the spring before the birds shed them in late summer.

22. California Quail by Ti Yung Hwa

Framed by green and beige chaparral lining a sandy trail, a California Quail stands on a rock in the middle of the path with its head turned to the side. The bird’s distinctive black topknot hangs like a comma from its forehead.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a7R III with a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens and a Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/500 second at f/8; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: I didn't think anything could top seeing majestic California Condors fly overhead as I hiked in Pinnacles National Park, but then I saw this little guy posing for me in the middle of the trail. I immediately crouched down to get this angle of the bird in its element. California Quails, like others of its family, occasionally stand still in open area, but they’ll quickly run into the bushes if they sense a threat. I slowly adjusted and framed this bird between the chaparral shrubs on the sides of the trail.

23. Buff-breasted Sandpiper by Evan Reister

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper walks along a rocky shore of Lake Superior, its neck stretched forward in profile. The slender shorebird’s light brown head and belly feathers contrast with the dark brown scale-like feathers along its back.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Whitefish Point, MI

  • Camera: Nikon D5600 with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/2500 second at f/7.1; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: While walking the beach of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, I spotted a small group of shorebirds and I worked my way closer to them. I pulled up my binoculars to identify the birds and saw two Semipalmated Sandpipers and this beautiful Buff-breasted Sandpiper, both of which were lifers for me. I got ahead of the Buff-breasted and lay down, waiting until it walked within 10 feet of me, which allowed me to get some amazing photos. The intimate encounter and the beauty of this individual bird combined to land the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on my list of favorite birds.

24. Virginia Rail by Joshua Galicki

A single Virginia Rail partially obscured by blurred flowers in the foreground looks head-on at the camera. The slim line of white feathers above its eyes outline the bird’s red eyes.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Sullivan County, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/4; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: I took this image low to the ground for an intimate perspective, while also incorporating some out of focus foreground elements to supplement—but not distract—from the bird's gaze. The diffused light provided for some soft, pastel colors that afternoon, which really brought this image together.

25. Sandhill Crane by Megan Bonham

The red crown of a Sandhill Crane stands out against the bird’s blue-gray head feathers, its stubbly texture like a carpet. The photo is a closeup of the bird’s upturned head taken from behind. Its right eye, just visible in profile, resembles a glass marble.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford, MI

  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T6i with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/125 second at f/5.6; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Kensington Metropark is home to several pairs of Sandhill Cranes. Given the park’s popularity, many of the cranes are accustomed to humans. I saw two cranes walking down a trail toward me, so I knelt down and waited for them to approach. I eventually got a traditional portrait. But that evening as I reviewed the day’s photos, I found myself mesmerized by the textures of this “screw-up” image and returned to it over and over again. Sometimes our accidents end up being beautiful.

26. Great Blue Heron by Chris Schlaf

Its feet still touching a rock on which it stands, a Great Blue Heron leans so far over the water of a pond that it looks like it might fall over. This yellow-billed gray bird appears positioned in front of blurred brown wetland grasses.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Romeo, MI

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with battery grip and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED lens; 1/4000 at f/4; ISO 450

  • Behind the Shot: I am extremely fortunate in that I can shoot right in my backyard. I settle in my spot before the sun rises so the birds won’t detect me and I wait. This morning the soft light of the sun was at my back when I noticed this heron focused on a particular spot in the water. It could only mean breakfast was waiting. When the bird plunged for the fish, I was ready with my Nikon D850 set at nine frames per second. This turned out to be my favorite shot of the burst.

27. Atlantic Puffin by Sunil Gopalan

Walking amid round flowers that appear yellow in the sunlight, an Atlantic Puffin carries two blossoms in its beak. The bird’s orange-and-black beak contrasts with its white belly and black shoulders and neck.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Shetland, United Kingdom

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/4; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: I photographed this Atlantic Puffin on a remote island in the Shetlands where seabirds outnumber humans. Scottish weather often brings rain, but we had clear skies in the evening just as the sun set behind the cliffs. I was able to lie down on the ground and point my lens directly at the sun, capturing a puffin returning with wildflowers to line its burrow. The flowers on the ground appear gold because of the angle of the sun, but really, they are the pink thrift that grows on cliff tops across much of Europe.

28. Wilson’s Snipe by Shirley Donald

Hidden behind a filmy curtain of green rushes is the bold brown-and-beige geometric pattern of the Wilson’s Snipe plumage. Only its eye and a small part of its head, with its distinctive stripe, are clearly visible. The bird is staring straight at the camera.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/4; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: Last June I explored a very small wetland close to my house. Rushes and reeds hid a few very small ponds, so I donned my waders and prayed that I wouldn’t fall. The clay bottom was as slippery as ice. Kneeling behind a clump of reeds and lowering my camera as much as possible, I photographed several bird species. I heard a Wilson’s Snipe winnowing but didn’t see one. Then my subject flew into sight and landed in the rushes a few yards away. It was half hidden by the green foliage, but I could see it was busy preening.

29. Hairy Woodpecker by David Leonard

A Hairy Woodpecker hangs on the underside of a decaying ponderosa pine branch, dust from its excavation efforts raining down on its black-and-white striped head and falling to the ground.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Mt. Lemmon, Pima County, AZ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: I was searching for Olive and Red-faced Warblers to photograph in the ponderosa pine woodlands when I found this female Hairy Woodpecker foraging upside down on a decayed ponderosa pine limb. Woodpeckers have held a special place in my heart since I was a kid. After graduate school, I studied Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in many peninsular Florida populations. Watching this Hairy Woodpecker brought back memories of my time in longleaf and slash pine forests. The goal of my photography is to convey the natural world’s beauty and inspire people to save the species that remain and the precious bits of habitat that support them. I hope this photograph achieves both.

30. Belted Kingfisher by Josiah Launstein

In a wetland blanketed with raindrops, a male Belted Kingfisher perches on the tip of a branch near the shoreline of a lake. The bird’s blue-and-white body stands out against the hazy greens and yellows of the spring foliage, white blossoms bursting above his head.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Beauvais Lake, Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/400 second at f/7.1; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: I was photographing warblers at a lake near my home on a cold, rainy spring day, when a male Belted Kingfisher flew past. I watched him hunt along the shoreline until he perched nearby, both of us pretty soaked. He dropped his left wing to shed the rain. As he watched the water for movement, I moved my tripod to find the composition I liked of this beautiful wetland scene. I lowered my shutter speed to give a better sense of the drenching rain and capture the softness and mood of the moment.

31. Giant Hummingbird by Jessica Suarez

A Giant Hummingbird briefly flies upside down, its wings outspread and its tail feathers fanned out. The bird looks to the side, its long bill pointed toward the plant’s greenery, while a bright red hibiscus flower dangles above it.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Urubamba, Cusco, Perú

  • Camera: Nikon D750 with a Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G; 1/2500 second at f/8; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: When I lived in the Sacred Valley of Perú, I would watch a Giant Hummingbird feed on hibiscus flowers outside my bedroom window. I always hoped it was the same individual returning each day. I usually didn’t have my camera ready in time, but once I was lucky enough to capture six frames of it in 15 seconds before it darted off again. It just happened to fly upside down in my final frame, displaying its acrobatic agility.

32. Mountain Bluebird by Eric Peterson

A Mountain Bluebird tosses a cream-colored berry, which is captured suspended in the air just before entering its wide-open mouth. Thin brown branches covered in sharp white frost surround the bright teal bird, which is sitting in profile on its perch.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Warm Springs Road, near Goshen, UT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/9; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: On a cold and foggy February morning, my friend and I headed to a small agricultural town in central Utah. As we drove down a road lined with Russian olive trees, we heard Mountain Bluebirds and stopped to find them. Just then, the fog started to lift, leaving a bright crystal-like hoarfrost on the tree limbs. It was then that we saw the small flock feasting on the Russian olive berries. We had no idea how the photos would turn out, but the moment itself was magical.

33. Roseate Spoonbil