Audubon Photography Awards

The 2022 Audubon Photography Awards: The Top 100

Moments of delight and awe abound in this collection of standout bird photography. Scroll through and learn the story behind each shot.

This year almost 2,500 photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted nearly 10,000 photographs and videos to Audubon's 13th annual Audubon Photography Awards. Reviewing anonymous image and video files, three panels of expert judges selected eight stunning winners and five honorable mentions. (Spoiler alert: It was a great year for grouse).

We couldn't stop there, with so many more exceptional shots—and exceptional birds—worth sharing. So we’ve selected 100 additional photos to feature. Displayed in no particular order, these photos give just a taste of birds' glorious variety. They also showcase a wide array of techniques used by wildlife photographers, as captured in entertaining and thoughtful “behind the shot” stories that accompany each image.

We hope these photos and anecdotes may inspire you to pick up a camera and capture your own unique avian moments. Be sure to peruse our photography section as you get started, including tips and how-to's, Audubon's ethical guidelines for wildlife photography, and gear recommendations. And remember to look out for the announcement of next year’s awards entry period in January 2023. Maybe it could be your shot that makes the cut. 

1. American Woodcock by Hector Cordero

An American Woodcock at eye level faces the camera, its brown patterned feathers clear while the ground it walks on is slightly out of focus. One green plant shoot emerges from the ground in the left of the frame.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: New York, New York

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: I was monitoring the migration of American Woodcocks, one of the most frequent collision victims in New York City, when I found this bird. I spent hours photographing him as he looked for food between bushes and leaves. I decided to lie down on the ground and wait for the bird to come out into the open. Just minutes before dusk, he turned to face me and started walking. I rushed to get the correct parameters, focus, and composition. At that moment, my efforts paid off. I hope my photo will be useful for raising awareness about collisions and solutions to prevent them, such as installing bird-friendly glass.

2. Black Phoebe by Raechel Lee

A Black Phoebe sits in the lower right corner of the photo, its back to the camera. Its head is turned in profile and the bird gazes to the left. A small fly perches on top of its head.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Los Gatos, California

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: On a summer morning, I noticed this browner-than-usual Black Phoebe perched near a lake’s edge. Looking at it through the viewfinder revealed more distinctive colors and textures in its plumage: some rusty fringing near its nape and upper back and fluffy side feathers that—though by no means unorderly—seemed resolute in maintaining their own disposition. It was only upon reviewing the photos that I saw a surprise visitor who had snuck in to pose with this little flycatcher.

3. Black-and-white Warbler by Christy Frank

In a dark and dense woodland habitat, a Black-and-white Warbler stops in a patch of sunlight along a moss-covered branch. It looks as if it’s in a spotlight, the light illuminating its starkly contrasting face.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: While many people race through the Lake Erie area to find the more colorful migrant birds, I’ve found that simply sitting in one location quietly will help me blend into the habitat. In September, I watched as a Black-and-white Warbler appeared and feasted on insects along a branch. I hoped the bird would move into a patch of sunlight illuminated in this lush habitat. When it did, I lifted my camera to capture this beautifully patterned bird that seemed to glow on its own little branched stage. I relish observing behavior and spending time with birds that many overlook. Moments like this bring such joy, and I feel so connected to the natural world.

4. Great Gray Owl by Benjamin Olson

A Great Gray Owl sits on the branch of an 80-foot-tall red pine. The bark, branches, and needles, as well as those of all the surrounding trees, are covered in the frost, making the large owl pop against the stand of trees.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Near Bemidji, Minnesota

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: In winter 2019, just before COVID-19 hit, I had one of the most remarkable weeks of my 16-year photography career. I was notified of a place where at least five Great Gray Owls were wintering, and I had to go see them for myself. On that first morning, I arrived just before sunrise to see everything covered in hoarfrost, which remained on the trees all day. Immediately after this owl hunted in front of me, it headed to this stand of red pines. I didn't go more than five minutes without an owl in sight throughout the day, which is one I still dream of.

5. Sanderling by Jeremy Rehm

A Sanderling stands on the shoreline and looks out into the warm yellow morning sunlight at the sea’s edge, its right leg just slightly off the red-hued sand. The sky behind is pink and blue. The bird rests near pink, blue, and yellow seafoam.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague, Virginia

  • Camera: Canon EOS R6 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/800 second at f/4; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I drove three hours to Chincoteague Island for my first real venture into photographing shorebirds. I wanted to capture photos at sunrise, but it wasn’t until my last morning that I got the chance. I plopped down on the sand on my belly near some seafoam and ahead of a long line of Sanderlings probing for food down the shoreline. When the birds finally came near, I had a hard time keeping up with them. Sanderlings’ little legs seem to go a mile a minute, but this one took a short breather right at the edge of the seafoam. It was a beautiful and serene moment before the Sanderling sprinted into the sea foam and continued its search for food.

6. Bonaparte’s Gull by John Troth

A flock of hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls fly together in a tight bunch, appearing as a band across the center of the frame. Behind them is a blurred, blue mountain, which helps to highlight the birds’ white and black plumage.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Point No Point County Park, Kitsap County, Washington

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: In early March, hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls gather in Puget Sound far out from shore, resting on the water’s surface and taking short foraging flights along it. Just before I took the photo, hundreds of the gulls took flight simultaneously, flying low over the water in the direction of my camera. I tracked this large group as the gulls approached. Just before reaching my location, the birds started to gradually gain altitude, rising and passing as a synchronized group.

7. Tree Swallow by Sarah Devlin

A Tree Swallow in flight holds a pine needle in its bill. Slightly off the ground, the bird’s wings are pointing down, its tail slightly slanted. The bottom of the image is a blurred green, the grass coming into focus closer to the bird.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Harwich, Massachusetts

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of photographing swallows. Their speed and agility make them an excellent subject for mastering the technique to capture birds in flight. On this sunny spring day, while out photographing birds at a local park, I noticed a Tree Swallow collecting pine needles and delivering them to a nest box nearby. I lay down on the ground, dug my elbows in, and waited to capture that magical moment.

8. Anna’s Hummingbird by Stephen Cassady

An Anna’s Hummingbird appears frozen in flight in the middle of the frame, its wings paused gently behind its back. The slight blur to the hummingbird’s wings blends into a dark background.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Limekiln Canyon Park, Porter Ranch, California

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a6000 with a Sony E 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 OSS lens; f 6.3; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: On every trip I had taken to Limekiln, I saw the most beautiful hummingbirds but only got awful shots of them. One day after work, when an Anna’s Hummingbird flew in from the shadows and paused in front of me, I decided that was the day. Still wearing my tie, I followed the bird up and down the dry creek bed. When I put my camera down, the hummingbird darted right back over and stopped two feet from my face. I snapped a few more shots before she flew off. It took hundreds of shots, eight ounces of sweat, and any respect the local hikers had for me, but I finally got this photo. It was worth it.

9. Village Weaver by Maria Khvan

A Village Weaver with a yellow body and black head sits inside of the beginnings of a nest. Green grass folds around the bird, its red eye peeking through two grasses. Behind it are circular finished nests made of grasses hanging from a tree branch.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Maasai Mara, Narok, Kenya

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens and a monopod; 1/8000 second at f/4; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: The first thing I noticed when I arrived at my campsite at Maasai Mara National Park was a loud chirping coming from a large acacia tree. When I walked toward the tree, I saw a colony of Village Weaver birds working hard on their intricately woven nests. The males gathered grasses and small tree leaves around the campsite and used them as building material. I spend my afternoon taking action photos. This was one of my favorites because the bird is sitting inside the nest, but you can still see its eye peeking out.

10. Blue Jay by Marie Read

A Blue Jay in the left side of the image carries an acorn in its bill as it flies through an abstract composition of out-of-focus, orange leaves. A distant American Robin, out-of-focus in the background, completes the composition.
  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Cornell Botanic Gardens, Ithaca, New York

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: Every autumn, I go to a local park to photograph Blue Jays that visit a grove of oak trees, gathering acorns that they carry off and hide for winter food supply. I’ve documented this vital survival behavior many times but rarely have had the opportunity to portray it artistically—until one special morning. I focused on a low-flying jay and was panning with it when it flew behind a sumac tree, whose out-of-focus leaves formed a dream-like wash of color between the camera and the subject. I kept shooting, trusting the camera to maintain focus on the now partially obscured bird, but not quite knowing what I would get. Examining the sequence of images afterwards, I was thrilled by the abstract appearance. A distant American Robin completes the composition.

11. Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Corey Raffel

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, visible in close-up from her neck and head only, feeds from a purplish-blue sage flower, her bill deep inside the bloom. Tiny bits of pollen from the flower are sprinkled on the bird’s head, and the anthers of the flower are in contact with the bird.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Carborro, North Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: While trying to take photos of Eastern Bluebirds (a lifer for me), I noticed a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (also a lifer for me) feeding on sage. When I later looked at the photos I took, I was surprised to see yellow on the bird's head. A closer look revealed it to be pollen. An even closer look showed that the plant's anthers were perfectly positioned to deposit pollen on the bird's head as the bird reached deeply into the flower to get to the nectar. I further noticed how the flower's stigma was touching the back of the hummingbird's head, perfectly positioned to receive pollen when the hummingbird backed out of the bloom. I could not help but be astounded at this wonderful example of coevolution of plant and bird. Both species benefit from the arrangement.

12. Northern Flicker by Jeffrey Kauffman

A Northern Flicker is in midair having just come out of its nest hole. Its yellow wings appear bent as they fan out and above it. Behind the bird is its mate perched on the trunk of a tree, its beak pointed toward the cavity.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens; 1/4000 second at f/4; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: This was my second year photographing Northern Flickers as they raised their chicks. The most challenging part was trying to get both mom and dad in the same frame during feeding—they shoot out of their nest cavity like rockets. After a few days, I caught on to their routines. I intentionally kept the camera in silent shutter mode to use the rolling shutter, giving an effect on the fast-moving wings of being a little curved. I really like the effect and continue to use when I can. When the Northern Flickers show up in the spring, they become the main talking point in our home for the next few months.

13. Great Gray Owl by Tom Haarman

Two Great Gray Owls balance on the same fence post, both in profile. One is passing a vole to the other. Both have their wings outstretched, the gray and brown stripes on the undersides of their feathers standing out against the blurred woods behind them.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with an Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens and a Marumi 77mm DHG Lens Protect Filter; 1/640 second at f/4.0; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: My buddy Rob and I were driving some range roads just out of town when we spotted the Great Gray Owl. As we slowly approached, we noticed that she was calling ever so softly. I was about to record a video when we saw another Great Gray Owl down the fence line. I quickly adjusted my camera, thinking there was going to be a territorial dispute. I started shooting as the new owl flew toward the one closer to me. I got goosebumps when I saw it had a vole in its beak. The second owl hovered on the fence post, passed it to the first, and left. Seeing this moment was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. When I look at this image, I see a love story. We should all be so lucky to have someone in our life who loves and cares for us as much as these two care for each other.

14. Mariana Crow by Trenton Voytko

A black Mariana Crow looks through a hole in the canopy. The blurred leaves of the trees framing her gaze as she appears to make eye contact with the camera lens. The Crow’s stare is inquisitive with her head ever-so-slightly cocked to the right. The rising sun is slightly noticeable in her eyes.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Rota, Northern Mariana Islands

  • Camera: Nikon D3200 with a Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/320 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: Micronesia’s only member of the Corvid family, Åga—the Chamorro word for the Mariana Crow—are endemic to the island of Rota. Previously they were also found on Guam, but the Brown Tree Snake’s introduction in the 1950s resulted in their extirpation. Now only about 200 Åga exist in the limestone jungles of Rota, where they’re critically endangered and face an uncertain future. Among Åga, this bird is special: She’s part of a rear-and-release program to bolster the wild population. A rustling in the canopy turned my attention to the treetops; there, looking down through the canopy, the bird made eye contact, her gaze soft and inquisitive as she gave my Nikon a once-over. Hopefully she and her fellow release cohort will revitalize the Åga’s population.

15. Anna’s Hummingbird by Matthew Leaman

A male Anna’s Hummingbird with just a slight red and purple coloration to his mostly black neck sits in profile on a green and snowy branch. He is facing to the left and wears a small, perfect snowflake on his forehead. Snow flurries streak past in the wind with a green background on the left, fading to a reddish-brown background on the right.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Seattle, Washington

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R II with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports lens; 1/200 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: In December 2021, Seattle experienced an unusually long cold and snowy spell. I had two feeders wrapped in Christmas lights to provide thawed nectar, and two others that I brought in at night. The feeder that this bird defended is outside the window where I work from home. As it started to snow one day, I took a break to take some photos. Since it was so cold, this hummingbird wanted to stay near the feeder and was easy to capture. I was excited when I saw the perfect little snowflake on his head in this image. I love to see if people notice it at first glance and then experience their disbelief and awe that such beauty can be found at home.

16. American Flamingo by Brynna Cooke

 A dark green backdrop frames the flamingo that faces the camera, its orange-pink feathers bright. His yellow eyes with pinpoint pupils are in focus staring into the lens for his close-up shot. A few beads of water are rolling down his cheek. His oversized black beak is out of focus, almost as if he is pressing his beak into a window to peer inside.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, Key West, Florida

  • Camera: Canon EOS 90D with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: Rhett, a male American Flamingo, was courting another flamingo in a pond. He shook his head back and forth, dipped his long neck, and displayed his fabulous colors. He followed me around the pond, shaking his head about three feet from the lens. I got the impression he enjoyed getting his photo taken (or seeing his reflection in the lens). Patience and luck are the true winners of this photo as he would not remain still. Flocks of American Flamingos used to be regular visitors to the Florida Keys. Today there are virtually none, and the few that are here have escaped from zoos. Rhett reminds Key West visitors of the beautiful birds we have displaced from paradise.

17. Prothonotary Warbler by Don Wuori

A bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler perches in profile on a moss-covered cypress knee. In its bill, it holds a large mayfly. At the bottom of the cavity inside the knee are two chicks with open bills.
  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Audubon Beidler Forest Center and Sanctuary, Harleyville, South Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D5 with a NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 51,200

  • Behind the Shot: I was fortunate enough to locate and photograph an active Prothonotary Warbler pair feeding its chicks in the eerily still, quiet, and almost mystical Audubon Beidler Forest Sanctuary. The forest’s serenity was occasionally shattered by the hoots of a Barred Owl, but more frequently by the flash of the bright yellow bird coming to enter a cypress knee, where the hidden nest was barely visible from the boardwalk. It was exciting to see adults bringing insects to feed hungry chicks or carrying out fecal sacs. When one would enter with an insect, the chicks occasionally popped up with their mouths wide open. My fast shutter speed combined with the low light led me to do something I very rarely do—photograph the scene at a very high ISO using a tripod-mounted DSLR camera and a long telephoto lens.

18. Carolina Wren by Eaton Ekarintaragun

A Carolina Wren faces the top of the frame from an upside-down position, its profile filling most of the frame. Yellow light illuminates its face and the background, tree branches crisscrossing behind the bird.
  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Chesapeake Beach, Calvert County, Maryland

  • Camera: Sony NEX-7 with a Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM lens; 1/125 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600