This year more than 2,000 photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted images to
Audubon magazine's 12th annual , and our panel of expert judges whittled down the entries to Audubon Photography Awards 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. eight stunning winners
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
has everything you need to get started, including photography section , tips and how-to's Audubon's for wildlife photography, and ethical guidelines . Next year, it could be your shot that makes the cut. gear recommendations
1. Black-necked Stilts by Jack Zhi
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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