Capturing a single, revealing moment with a photograph is always a challenge—especially when birds and nature are involved. Capturing compelling video of bird behavior can be an entirely different but equally tall task, one in which the videographer must be ready to record and able to stay trained on their often unpredictable subject for an extended period. But when everything goes just right, the result is an elongated glimpse into the fascinating lives of birds.
For the second year now, the Audubon Photography Awards video category has opened up a whole new world to both entrants and our readers. And once again, our judges were faced with hard decision as they reviewed stunning clip after stunning clip. The winning video was taken by Audubon Photography Awards veteran Liron Gertsman, who also has a second video in this list here. His footage and 11 others were just too spectacular for us not to share with readers in an extended gallery. From a soaring Bald Eagle effortlessly ripping a large branch from a tree to an American Robin ice-fishing for minnows, these engrossing videos put on full display the fascinating and varied behaviors of birds.
After you’ve enjoyed these clips, 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's and Audubon's ethical guidelines for wildlife photography. And if you're really feeling motivated, don't forget that our 2023 Audubon Photography Awards are now open for entry!
1.) Wilson’s Snipe by Eileen de la Cruz
Location: Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland, WA
Camera: Fujifilm XT3 with a Fujifilm XF 100-400mm; f8.0; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: I was at Juanita Bay Park, one of my favorite patches located on the shores of Lake Washington. It was a cloudy, cool February morning, and I walked down the boardwalk to where I’d seen some Wilson’s Snipes a couple of weeks before. I finally spotted this snipe resting on the muddy shore (their plumage works to camouflage them very well), and set up my camera and tripod on the boardwalk. For several minutes the bird simply rested, but then it got up and started walking. To my surprise the snipe was bobbing up and down. I had not known Wilson’s Snipes walked this way! I had to stifle my laughter—it was such a comical and endearing sight. I alternated between taking short videos and photographs while the bird moved about, covered by the surrounding plants. I was able to take this longer video when it came out into the open. The dancing bird then disappeared into the rushes, right after I stopped filming.
2.) American Robin by Brooke Roegge
Location: St. Paul, MN with a
Camera: Nikon D7500
Story Behind the Shot: In Minnesota in late winter and early spring, groups of minnows gather at the ice openings around the edges of marshes and ponds, perhaps hoping for bugs, and robins take advantage. I had heard of this phenomenon and, when the time was right, had plans to visit some spots where this behavior had been previously observed. This year I was in luck—a sighting was shared at a park very close to my house, so I dropped everything to get there and watch it. In the few days I spent observing these robins, they gorged themselves on minnows, often eating 3 or 4 in a row before flying off to digest in a nearby tree, only to return about 30 minutes later and gorge again. I noticed the water churning at the edges of the ice where the minnows gathered, which may have helped the robins notice them. I also observed that the robins would drop the minnows into the snow to either stun or kill them before consuming them. On the first day there were a handful of robins participating—maybe 8 or so—but by the third day the opening in the ice had grown larger and so had the flock of at least 25 robins.
with aNikon 200-500mm, at 500mm; 29.97 frames per second at f/10; ISO 500
3.) Willow Ptarmigan by Marilyn Grubb
Location: Municipal District of Greenview, Alberta, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Sigma 150-600mm shot at 600mm; video at f11; ISO 2000
Story Behind the Shot: Early in December a friend who had never seen a Willow Ptarmigan joined me on a quest through a snowstorm to find the elusive white birds. Luckily, I had seen two Willow Ptarmigans recently on an earlier trip, so we headed to where I had spotted the pair and pulled over to the side of the deserted mountain road to look, unsuccessfully, for tracks in the fresh snow. It was lunchtime, so we both pulled out our food and began eating in the car. Suddenly my friend motioned that she was seeing action over on her side of the road, behind the snowpiled ditch. I exited the car and quietly went behind it, using the white vehicle as a blind. Lo and behold, there was a single Willow Ptarmigan munching away on its own lunch as we’d been enjoying ours! Not wanting to disturb the bird’s behavior, I decided to handhold the camera to get a wee bit of video. I wasn’t disappointed as he continued pecking off the willow buds, working his way towards me.
4.) Prothonotary Warbler by Benjamin Clock
Location: Francis Beidler Forest, SC
Camera: Sony A7R II with a Canon 500mm f4 and a Canon 1.4x teleconverter; 1/60 sec at f4; ISO 100
Story Behind the Shot: At Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest Sanctuary, I was walking along the boardwalk through the flooded forest and noticed a female Prothonotary Warbler making occasional visits to a cavity. It was very early in the nesting season and Prothonotary Warblers had arrived back in the area just a few days before. Males were singing vigorously all around the forest. I was able to set my tripod nearby and remain very still as the bird approached. Filming from the edge of the boardwalk from a position partially obscured by the trunk of an adjacent tree, I was able to view the bird at the nest without disturbance. Sometimes timing works out perfectly to be able to witness beautiful moments like this bird preparing a cavity for nesting.
5.) Northern Flicker by Paul Lisker
Location: Forest Park, St. Louis, MO
Camera: Fujifilm X-T3 with a Fujifilm XF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR; 400mm (609mm equivalent); 1/120 sec at f/5; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: During an early morning walk on a frigid winter day, I saw flashes of yellow amid an otherwise drab thicket. As I approached, I saw the curious sight of two Northern Flickers engaging in a dance, each jerking its head side to side while facing each other. I cautiously stepped closer, taking care to not disturb them. I shouldn’t have worried so much—some people walked nearby, but the birds remained. The pair seemed entranced, hyper-focused on their hypnotic dance. The male, with its recognizabe black mustache, followed the female tirelessly whenever she moved to a separate branch. They perched close to me, providing a clear view of their beautiful plumage, from the barring on their backs to the spots on their bellies. Suddenly, they flitted away in amorous pursuit into the cold winter day, leaving behind only the memory of their red napes forming a perfect pair of hearts.
6.) Great Blue Heron by Nicolas Bamberski
Location: Alameda, CA
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G9 with a Lumix Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm at ~300mm; 1/125 sec at f/8; ISO auto
Story Behind the Shot: The Great Blue Heron is a year-round resident of California and a frequent sight along our shores. The cypress tree in the video, in the fenced-off wetland of the old Navy base at Alameda Point, has served as a secluded nesting site for herons for many years. The tree is now dead and will not stand much longer. As a photographer, I had been capturing urban wildlife on the island of Alameda for many years, including at this site. This winter I intended to capture a video of the herons’ captivating nest-building activity in the best possible light conditions, which proved to be at sunrise on a cold Friday morning, when the light rose behind me and illuminated both the tree and downtown San Francisco, miles across the bay yet seeming so close. The fence protecting this wetland is a few hundred feet away from the tree, and I set up my tripod far enough from that fence to compose the shot above it. Having to use a long focal length brought some nice compression in the image and really highlighted the contrast, yet compatibility, between nature and civilization. I feel the composition itself shows the benefits of dedicating some urban habitat to wildlife. I was expecting more nest building like in previous weeks, with herons bringing branches and twigs back, but instead I was greeted with this magical mating scene!
7.) Crested Caracara and Northern Mockingbird by Maria Chu
Location: Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area, Clewiston, FL
Camera: Canon xa50 with an internal lens at 580mm and Canon TL-U58 Tele-Converter Lens (1.5x); 1/350 sec at f/6)
Story Behind the Shot: My husband and I went on a trip to the cattle ranch area of Hendry Country, Florida, and our goal was to record and observe the Crested Caracara. We had several opportunities during my one-week adventure, but this was our lucky day. The wind was challenging at 20 mph, but the soft morning light helped with the video. It was a couple of hours after sunrise, and I noticed three caracaras sitting on fence poles. As I observed them from a distance, suddenly I noticed that this Northern Mockingbird kept annoying one of the caracaras, flying in circles around the raptor. The caracara tried to defend itself, but the mockingbird was quick and agile, able to evade any attacks from the slower caracara. The mockingbird was persistently “mocking” the large bird until it was so annoyed that it flew away, with the mockingbird chasing right after. In fact, one by one, the bird would peck and circle around each caracara until they were annoyed and flew away. Apparently, the caracaras were too close to the mockingbird’s nest. I was amazed by this persistent little mockingbird and how the caracara couldn’t do anything to stop it.
8.) Pileated Woodpecker by Michael Fogleman
Location: Harris Lake County Park, New Hill, NC
Camera: Canon R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM and a Canon Extender RF 2x (shot at 500 x 2 = 1000mm); 1/60s at f/14; ISO Auto
Story Behind the Shot: I first came across this Pileated Woodpecker nest in March 2021 when the adults were still excavating the cavity. After that, I checked the tree weekly to monitor its progress. It wasn’t until May 22 that I first saw any of the nestlings—and by that point they were almost fully grown! First I saw one quietly poking its head out. Then two! And then the third! Two females and one male. I set up my tripod and began taking photos and videos. They begged for food—calling in perfect unison—when the female adult came into view. She flew to the tree and began feeding them. She fed the male first, showing an apparent preference by withholding food from an aggressive female sibling who tried to cut in. She finally gave what little was left to one of the females, but the third nestling received no food on this particular visit. I also observed the male feeding them soon after. A couple days later, the juveniles had left the nest. This was the only time I saw all three of the nestlings poking their heads out. In the coming weeks, I came across the entire family of five foraging in the woods nearby. This was the highlight of my birding in 2021. As this was at a public park, you can hear laughter in the background. I find this to be especially interesting because it highlights how oblivious we can be to the wonders of nature.
9.) Osprey by Brian Kushner
Location: Heislerville Wildlife Management Area, Heislerville, NJ
Camera: Nikon Z6 with a Nikon 800mm F/5.6; 1/1600 F/8; ISO Auto
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve been photographing this Osprey nest for 10 years. At one point, it housed a 16-year-old banded Osprey, one of the oldest banded Ospreys in New Jersey. There is a new pair that took over the nest in 2020 after the former did not return in the spring. I follow this nest from late March through the breeding season and chick rearing until the birds leave in the fall.
10.) Carolina Chickadee by Amy Boggan
Location: Hayesville, NC
Camera: Nikon Coolpix P900; 1/25 sec at f/6.3; ISO 280
Story Behind the Shot: On my first white Christmas in my mountaintop home in western North Carolina, I wandered around my property taking bird-in-snow photographs and shots of the scenery. It was bitterly cold, but everything was so beautiful. The birds were very active, so I stayed out a bit longer just outside of the house. As I stood facing north, the morning light streamed in over my right shoulder. While I was photographing a cooperative Purple Finch, this Carolina Chickadee drew my attention as it was doing something I’d never seen: eating snow. Fluffy to stay warm in the cold, it was adorable as it periodically got snow all over its face and shook it off while monitoring the sky above with a few dee dee dees. The chickadee didn’t seem to mind being on camera, and I was elated to capture the moment in good light from a short distance. It was a nice reminder that a “yard bird” can still be fascinating, and I’m glad I lingered in the cold!
11.) Sharp-tailed Grouse by Liron Gertsman
Location: Thompson-Nicola, British Columbia, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at 400mm and a Canon EF to RF mount adapter; 1/250 at f/5.6; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: One of the most incredible things I’ve ever had the chance to experience in nature is a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, a site where males gather to perform courtship displays for visiting females. Sharp-tailed Grouse typically arrive at their lek before sunrise, and will dance and display through much of the morning. These birds are notoriously flighty and sensitive to disturbance, so to observe them respectfully, I scouted out the location the afternoon prior, and set up a hide outside the perimeter of the lek after sunset. Waking up at 3 a.m., I hiked for 45 minutes through the dark to reach my hide. As the first sign of dawn light began to appear on the horizon, the show began, with grouse dancing and producing otherworldly sounds. Each male on the lek has his own small territory, and fights regularly break out between neighborhooing birds, as captured in this video. At the center of the lek are the highest quality territories, where males are most likely to mate with a female. As such, fights in the center of the lek are particularly common. These Sharp-tailed Grouse belong to the "Columbian" subspecies, a population that has disappeared from 90 percent of its former range across western North America, and is listed as a population of special concern in Canada and several U.S. states.
12.) Bald Eagle by Barbara Carlson
Location: Kings River, Piedra, CA
Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 150-600 mm shot at 600 mm; 1/400 sec at f9; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I watched this Bald Eagle flying back and forth across the river all morning collecting sticks for its nest. I was parked on the side of the road, camera ready, awaiting the bird’s next return from over the hill when much to my surprise it appeared and flew just above me, right across my line of sight. Without stopping, the bird grabbed and snapped a branch off this tree with its impressive talons. It felt like the raptor knew I was observing and was only trying to impress me with its skills, as it dropped this branch shortly after performing its graceful feat! I was beyond thrilled to witness this behavior—one I’d never experienced before by these beautiful birds—and was even more thrilled that I was somehow able to capture the entire scene with my camera.