Hey there, reader. Why yes, this is another one of those obligatory end-of-year roundups where we highlight popular stories we published this year. What's that, you say? You are an obsessive reader of Audubon magazine and Audubon.org and surely did not miss a single story we produced? Well then, first, thank you! But aren't you curious what stories were the most read, or which ones the people behind the scenes also liked? Ah, see, now you're hooked.
As always, the top 10 stories that resonated with readers this year comprise a diverse mix, beginning with an inspiring Common Merganser mother and ending with a list of dazzling female birds that outshine their male counterparts. When you're done perusing those, also be sure to check out our list of editors' picks. While many of the stories we loved were also reader favorites, there were many we were passionate about that didn't quite make the cut. From longform features to thoughtful essays and immersive explainers, we couldn't leave 2018 without recognizing these gems. So dig in, and as always, thanks for reading.
Top 10 Most-Read Stories
1.) Here’s Why This Mama Merganser Has More than 50 Ducklings
When photographer Brent Cizek captured an adorable mother Common Merganser with dozens of duckling in her wake, he knew he had a special shot. We agreed, and after our social team shared the photo on Twitter in a very popular tweet, we wrote a story explaining what exactly is going on in this picture. The photos and the story soon went viral, garnering headlines and Audubon mentions at publications ranging from National Geographic to the New York Times.
Unless you are a birder, chances are good you only confidently know a handful of species—and those are probably the most famous ones. Northern Cardinal. Check. American Robin. Yep. This popular list was meant to be a primer on all those other birds people might see everyday but remain mysteries.
People love their Northern Cardinals, so when a yellow one popped up in Alabama last year, we knew we had to investigate. This story, which explores the possible reasoning for the discoloration, quickly became as popular as the bird it was about.
As part of our growing collection of stories focusing on ethical bird photography, this piece features guidelines for feeding birds while trying to achieve the best shot. But the advice—posed as three sensical and informative questions you should ask yourself—easily applies to backyard birdwatchers as well.
This is the first of three articles on this list from our Audubon Photography Awards. Our behavior galleries have become an annual tradition and allow us to highlight and explain a few of the more interesting natural moments this year's entrants captured. Unsurprisingly, It's always a reader favorite.
When the Cornell Lab of Ornithology published the results from its study looking at which birds dominate at backyard feeders, we knew we had to cover. Even better, in this story covering the study we challenged readers to guess which birds would win in certain battles—and yes, the results are sometimes surprising.
These shots might have not quite what our judges were looking for to be an Audubon Photography Awards winner, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a disappointing shot in this bunch. Also be sure to check out the technical details and story behind each shot.
What happens when you take a Florida story and throw in bird-eating invasive reptiles, incredible storytelling, and vivid imagery? A hit with readers far and wide that also happens to raise awareness about an important conservation issue. So, a win-win.
The top photographs from the most competitive bird photography competition in the world—of course this is a reader favorite every year. But for 2018, we also had a first: One talented teenager swept the entire Youth Category. We're going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably not the last time we'll hear from him.
10.) Pretty Little Fliers
For our week dedicated to female birds, we decided to challenge the typical narrative that males are always the most attractive sex of a species. This playful piece doesn't only upend those beliefs, but it also introduces readers to some truly striking female birds.
As a lifelong birder, I've often thought about the bias against female birds in the birding world—intentional or unintentional. Because they often have more colorful and distinct markings than their female counterparts, males serve as the prototypical version of the species, the one that first comes to mind. As a result, for some birders, seeing a female does not count as “technically” seeing the bird. When I talked to Audubon Field Editor and bird expert Kenn Kaufman about this observation and whether it seemed worth exploring, he shared a few anecdotes from his own life that made me immediately realize he was the perfect person to take on such a subject. The essay he wrote is a thoughtful reflection on the ingrained biases in birding against female birds, and how getting over them helped him become a better birder—and, I think, he'd even say human. —Andrew Del-Colle, site director and editor
Think the record-breaking seven-plus hour Game 3 of the 2018 World Series between the Dodgers and Red Sox was a feat of stamina? Meh. It’s got nothing on the World Series of Birding—an annual competition in which hundreds of birders flock to New Jersey to see which team can tally the most avian species in a 24-hour period in May. This year we embedded three intrepid reporters with teams, trailed by one plucky photographer, to cover the agonizing incredible lengths birders will go to in search of their quarry. The result was a rollicking read. —Alisa Opar, articles editor
As one wayward Mandarin Duck became New York City’s biggest celebrity crush in fall of 2018, site director Andrew Del-Colle took the opportunity to perfectly and humorously capture the mixed emotions birders had over the whole frenzy. I’d just accepted an offer to work at Audubon when I read it and already knew my future colleagues were going to be fun. —Jess Leber, senior editor
One of the great joys of working at Audubon as a writer and editor is getting to tell the stories of so many passionate people who care about birds—even those fighting uphill battles to save species from extinction. In this web feature, Asher Elbein writes poignantly about the team of biologists and conservationists working to restore the federally endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken to Texas’s coastal prairie. Over 26 years, they’ve learned how to breed the birds in captivity, and in the past few years have released hundreds of young birds into the wild. But their efforts keep being stymied by chance events, including Hurricane Harvey. Along with telling the story of the breeding program in vivid detail, Asher gets the biologists to open up to him, and to readers, about how they are coping with this inescapable question: “What happens when you do everything right, and it still isn’t enough?” —Hannah Waters, senior associate editor
Reporting on a phenomenon that's long been known but is little understood presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Anza-Borrego in its super bloom finery is enough to win over any beating heart, but the real mission came in finding the story under the desert's fleeting, flowery veneer. Photojournalist Mac Stone and I stitched together the accounts of knowledgable and dedicated hawk watchers, park rangers, scientists, and sightseers to publish one of the most complete histories of the Swainson Hawk's bizarre migratory behavior through Southern California. The journey, from start to finish, was unpredictable for the hawks, their vomit-spewing victims, and their glass-toting entourage. —Purbita Saha, associate editor
With its surreal opening scene, killer quotes, and easygoing style, this piece on Spencer Pratt's hummingbird obsession goes down nectar-sweet. But as in any good celebrity profile, author Benji Jones delivers more than empty calories, reminding readers of the power birds have to change a person's life—even a reality-show villain's—for the better. —Andy McGlashen, associate editor
This is one of my favorite portfolios of images this year, as it gives the reader an “elevated” look at large colonies of birds in the Florida Everglades in a way that really brings to light the magnitude of this year’s breeding explosion. Our photographer Mac Stone spent quite a bit of time in a small plane shooting this nesting boom, and the results were undeniably worth it: We are at once above the birds but also at eye level with them, as if we were a bird about to land on a nest in a tree laden with an unusually large number of them. Mac’s photos play with graphic shapes and patterns and allow for surprise when the reader realizes that the white pin points below are in fact birds . . . I love that element of surprise! —Sabine Meyer, photography director
The surprising information and gorgeous imagery in this piece are presented together in such a compelling combination. The photos are beautiful and rich, and the close-up details are fascinating to study. Meanwhile, the format we chose, which allows you to scroll through the images and text, delivers a fun and captivating experience. This was easily one of my favorite stories I worked on this year. —Lia Bocchiaro, associate photo editor
The birds we love and protect differ in color, size, geographical location and countless other ways. The New Roots program, designed by Golden Eagle Audubon Society, celebrates the diversity of the human species, introducing refugees and immigrants to their new environments in America and the world of science. It's these sorts of program that strengthen conservation efforts for the benefit of nature and all human beings. This story inspired us and will surely inspire you. —Mike Fernandez, video producer