Arts & Culture Featured Visual Arts

The 2023 Audubon Photography Awards: The Top 50

Another year, another fantastic Audubon Photography Awards. For the 14 installment of their annual competition, they had more than 2,200 individuals from across the United States and Canada submit almost 9,000 photographs and videos. Then the hard part began: After reviewing every anonymous image and video file, three panels of expert judges selected just 13 winners and honorable mentions.

But as always, with so many amazing submissions, they put together a list of 50 of their favorite photos for your enjoyment. Shared in no particular order, these shots show birds from around the world in all of their breathtaking variety and wonder. The images also illustrate the many different techniques and approaches used by wildlife photographers, which you can read about in the detailed “behind the shot” stories for each photograph.

After perusing this gallery, you might feel inspired to pick up a camera and try your own hand at avian photography. If so, their photography section is a good place to get started. There you’ll find articles covering tips and how-to’s, Audubon’s ethical guidelines for wildlife photography, and gear recommendations. And if you end up capturing one or more images you’re especially pleased with, consider entering next year’s awards!

1. Tree Swallow by Nicholas Stroh

A Tree Swallow with wings spread wide flies against a blurred orange background, the tips of its flight feathers aglow, matching the color behind it. The birds blue and white head and back stand out against the rest of the image.
Category: AmateurLocation: Eastern Shore, Maryland

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 1250

Behind the Shot: As I drove home one day, I noticed the backlit flashing wings of a group of Tree Swallows hunting over wetlands. I decided to dedicate the next weeks of my photography outings to these swallows flying in early morning light. I would wake up hours before sunrise and make my way to the wetlands to set up my equipment, spending hours observing the birds and understanding their patterns. Thousands of photographs later, I was thrilled to capture eye contact and full wing spread in this frame. The backdrop of the distant trees creates a beautiful bokeh effect, and the sun’s rays filtering through the leaves give the image a warm and ethereal quality.

2. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck by Joshua Pelta-Heller

Seven Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks stand on a boardwalk’s wooden railing. Three of the rust-brown ducks, with black undersides, and pink bills, legs, and feet, face one direction, while three more face the opposite way against a blurred black background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Orlando Wetlands Park, in Christmas, Florida

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/200 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: For me, Florida is a semi-regular travel destination where I can visit some of the wildest and most biologically diverse ecosystems in the country. I try to use my photography to capture the state’s unique and abundant beauty and share my love for this place with others. After shooting one evening at Orlando Wetlands Park in February 2023, a couple of friends and I made our way back along a boardwalk. There we saw a group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks congregated on the railing. I gently perched my camera on the railing as well, taking care not to disturb them. We were lucky to have had our ducks in a row that evening.

3. Elegant Tern by Ashrith Kandula

Four black-crested Elegant Terns fill the frame with a gray background. One flies from above while two others below face each other in profile, one with a raised head and crest offers an eel-like fish in its uplifted bill.
Category: AmateurLocation: Bolsa Chica State Beach, Orange County, California

Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x; 1/1000 second at f/8.0; ISO 200

Behind the Shot: I was sitting on the beach, occasionally glancing at some striking Heermann’s Gulls and a mixed flock of Elegant and Royal Terns. Suddenly, a male Elegant Tern started a courtship display with his characteristic proud pose—an erect crest and drooping wings—while offering a small eel to a potential mate. At that same moment, two birds were walking and flying in the background, giving a composite feel to a single image. The terns’ bright orange bills added the necessary color to an otherwise monochrome scene. Many photographers ignore bird colonies due to the difficulty of isolating a bird with a clean background, but with patience, flock photos can accentuate the natural behavior of social species.

4. White-tailed Ptarmigan by Peter Ismert

A White-tailed Ptarmigan in its white plumage preens, a single feather in its mouth with its eyes closed. Its head is curved back against its body, the feather color matching the snowy ground while standing out against a gray background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Arapaho National Forest, Georgetown, Colorado

Camera: Nikon Z9 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR; 1/3200 second at f/4; ISO 160

Behind the Shot: White-tailed Ptarmigan live year-round above the tree line in the alpine tundra. Seeing them in winter is a challenge. Their white winter plumage is excellent camouflage, and getting to them requires skiing or snowshoeing from mountain passes or the valley below. I was lucky to find this ptarmigan after I snowshoed up a mountain and discovered it feeding on dried willow leaves, seeds, and stems exposed from the frequent scouring winds high on the ridgeline. As I laid in the snow to get images at eye-level, the ptarmigan continued to feed on the willow remnants without paying me any attention. To my delight, it even got closer and preened in a small clearing.

5. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher by Lorraine Snipper

A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher leans forward to catch a katydid, its wings above its body, bill open, and long tail feathers spread behind it. The bird’s underwings and flanks of salmon sharply contrast with the bright blue sky.
Category: AmateurLocation: Mullet Key, Fort De Soto Park, Florida

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF100-500mm F/4.5-7.1 L IS USM at 400mm lens; 1/3200 second at f/8; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen, rather unusually, at a county park near me in Central Florida. Off I went the very next morning, determined to see the bird. After several attempts, I noticed a light-colored bird hopping around in the grass. I had trouble keeping it in focus, so I increased my shutter speed and hoped it would fly. Much to my delight, it flew up into a tree with a large katydid. With seconds to spare, I positioned myself for the best light and view. The bird tossed its katydid into the air for a big gulp. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the flycatcher to provide such a fantastic display with its tail feathers!

6. Little Blue Heron by Dorian Anderson

A Little Blue Heron stands in water up to its upper legs, its face in the water and a large splash above its head. The bird stands in profile in the flat water, in front of a pink and buff blurred background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Fort de Soto Park, Pinellas County, Florida

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 600mm f/4 IS II lens and Canon 1.4x TC III; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: I arrived before sunrise and schlepped my gear down 1,000 yards of beach before spying this bird across a tidal lagoon. I ditched my shoes and shirt and waded into the water. I made a wide arc to get the light behind me and dropped to my stomach. The water was eight inches deep, so I crawled closer, my lens kept dry by my aching arms. My slow approach put the bird at ease, and I captured hundreds of images. In this shot, the bird is retracting its head after stabbing at a fish. The windless conditions rendered the surface perfectly flat. Low angle photography is my favorite sort, so I was stoked with this result.

7. American Avocet, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, and Semipalmated Sandpiper by Tim Timmis

An avocet standing in profile, its head down as if in a curtsey, looks from a brown raft of seaweed into the gray ocean. All around the avocet are other shorebirds at various stages of flying, taking off, and standing.
Category: AmateurLocation: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, Texas

Camera: Canon EOS R3 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and Skimmer Ground Pod; 1/1600 second at f/9; ISO 6400

Behind the Shot: While taking shorebird photos lying in the mudflats with my ground pod along the Texas Gulf Coast, I found this group of birds riding the waves on a mat of seaweed attached to the shoreline. It was a cloudy and windy day, and I had low expectations on any decent photo opportunities, but this group of birds was entertaining and fun to photograph. The waves would come crashing in and force some of the small birds off of the seaweed, but the American Avocet held his ground.

8. Eastern Kingbird by Justin Griggs

A white-bellied, gray-winged Eastern Kingbird flies toward the camera with wings outstretched and tail spread open Its dark coloring stands out against a background of blurred yellow-green leaves.
Category: AmateurLocation: Missoula, Montana

Camera: Nikon Z9 with a Nikon AF-NIKKOR 600mm f//4G ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 8000

Behind the Shot: In the height of summer, Eastern Kingbirds were flocking to the banks of the Clark Fork River, where I observed many actively hunting for insects on the wing. In this particular area, the river was shallow and narrow enough for me to wade into the middle of the river with my camera and tripod. On the evening I captured this image, I spent about three hours standing in the knee-deep water photographing the kingbirds as they hunted in the waning evening light. Despite being taken in August, the river was still quite chilly, leading to slightly numb toes, but a full memory card with images of this wonderful bird.

9. Anna’s Hummingbird by Kevin Lohman

An Anna’s Hummingbird hovers below a branch covered with lichen. She is looking up with her wings behind her, and the tip of her bill open to pick lichen off the branch against a blurred green and yellow background.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: San Jose, California

Camera: Nikon Z9 with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens and built-in 1.4x teleconverter; 1/3200 second at f/4.0; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: I was standing near some trees when I noticed an Anna’s Hummingbird picking lichen off a branch. She would grab some, fly off in the direction of nearby bushes, and return a few minutes later to gather more. I know lichen is a material hummingbirds use when building a nest, but I had never seen a bird gather it. The hummingbird ignored my presence, allowing me to take photographs of her approaching the lichen from multiple angles. I chose this image because I like the wing shape, the way her body is positioned, and the way her bill is just touching the branch to remove the lichen.

10. Wood Duck by Matthew Hall

A Wood Duck sits in profile on a branch of a crabapple tree, boughs heavy with fruit and surrounding all but one side of the frame. The brown, white, and buff-colored duck stands out against a blurred red background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Littleton, Colorado

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/400 second at f/4; ISO 5000

Behind the Shot: I was photographing a group of Wood Ducks as they swam through the reflection of golden autumn trees. As the light receded from the pond, I was about to head home when this beautiful Wood Duck leapt into a nearby crabapple tree with a background of autumn maple leaves. He swallowed apple after apple. Several apples fell into the water and the other ducks chased each other around for the juicy snacks. It was a beautiful reminder that we never know what these birds will do in the wild and patience can reward you with unique behaviors that make wildlife photography special.

11. Western Screech-Owl by Maximilian Rabbitt-Tomita

Against a blurry, bluish background, a Western Screech-Owl sits on a large branch, with its body turned to the right but its head turned back to the left. The brown bird has dilated pupils and holds what is left of a green caterpillar in its bill.
Category: YouthLocation: Menlo Park, California

Camera: Nikon Z5 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens and Nikon FTZ II Mount Adapter: 4 seconds at f/5.6; ISO 3200

Behind the Shot: A friend told me about a tree cavity that housed a family of Western Screech-Owls, so I set up my tripod near the cavity and waited. Once the sun was completely below the horizon, the family appeared in the cavity, the parents flying around and capturing food for their young. As it got darker and the owls flew to different perches, it became extremely difficult to capture shots. Somehow, I finally spotted one landing on a large branch. I turned toward what I thought was the owl, manually focused, and took three photos at a four-second exposure before the bird flew off. I ended up perfectly focused on the owl and got the shot.

12. Roseate Spoonbill by Kelley Luikey

: Two Roseate Spoonbills feed right in the center of the frame, their pink wings mirroring that of blurred soft pink sky above, which is reflected in shallow water.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde, Florida

Camera: Canon 1D X Mark II with a Canon 600 f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/400 second at f/4; ISO 4000

Behind the Shot: Last September, I waded out to a sandbar to photograph a pair of migrating American Avocets. With late summer storms off in the distance, the light was absolutely stunning. As the sun dipped lower—and I got wetter and sandier—I thought about heading back in. Before I went, I glanced over my shoulder to check the light. As I did, two beautiful Roseate Spoonbills flew in and landed close to me. I didn’t want to spook them, so I slowly shifted my position and quickly adjusted my settings. My angle was pretty awkward, but I started shooting and hoped for the best. No matter how many times I photograph spoonbills, I still get excited every time.

13. American Dipper by Hector Cordero

A gray American Dipper sits in rushing water, its body and head in profile. A freshly caught insect appears to float between its open bill, the bird’s tongue sticking out.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm F/4 IS III USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2X III and RF Adapter; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: Last September, I spent a week observing and photographing the behavior of a family of American Dippers that frequented the streams of the Yellowstone River. I would wade into the fast-moving water with my tripod before the action began. On the day I took this photograph, I spotted a dipper perched on a log in the middle of the river, basking in the sun. Suddenly, the bird took flight and flew close to me, diving into the water to hunt for aquatic invertebrates. Despite its best efforts, the juvenile failed to catch many insects. As it plunged its head underwater one more time, I pressed the shutter. When I checked the screen, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

14. Limpkin by Cynthia Barbanera-Wedel

A brown Limpkin with white spots and a long light pinkish bill stands in a lake, one leg raised, and three toes outstretched. It looks to the side with its wing feathers fanned behind it, the gray background and bird’s body reflected in the rippling water
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Myakka River State Park, Sarasota, Florida

Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/320 sec at f/4; ISO 4000

Behind the Shot: We are lucky enough to see large quantities of Limpkins year-round in Myakka River State Park. They feast on their favorite apple snails and other mollusks. I have seen many photos of Limpkins with food and in flight, but I was hoping to capture something different. I was lucky on this evening to catch one in an elegant pose that gave me a clear view of its long toes and fanned wing feathers. The sun had just gone down, and I was losing light quickly, so I increased my ISO and overexposed the image in hopes of a brightly lit frame and few shadows. I love the idea of sharing a bird people might be unfamiliar with

15. Western Gull by Faith Barton

A gray Western Gull chick with black speckles on its head sits in the forefront of the image, the bird's parent, white with a bright yellow bill and red dot near the tip, blurred in the background.
Category: YouthLocation: La Jolla, California

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG DN OS lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 500

Behind the Shot: It was mid-morning when I met up with a group of fellow teenage girls. We had one thing in common: We all carried cameras. It was a gathering for a nature photography workshop through Girls Who Click, a nonprofit organization that promotes young female wildlife photographers. After receiving guidance from the workshop host, we split into groups. My group began exploring the area around a small cove. Before long, we came across a pair of Western Gulls and their three fuzzy chicks sitting on a ledge. I took several photos from different angles, and this shot caught my eye. It is as if the young chick is imagining what it will look like when it grows up.

16. Purple Sandpiper by Kieran Barlow

A sandpiper sits on a rock in the middle of the frame seeming to look right at the lens. The background is a blurred deep blue contrasting the gray and white of the bird’s feathers.
Category: YouthLocation: Rockport, Massachusetts

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 1400

Behind the Shot: Every year, I take several day trips to the northern Massachusetts shoreline. While I’ve typically fixated on Harlequin Ducks, this year I shifted my focus to sandpipers. I’ve always enjoyed photographing them and observing their behavior, and I knew if I lay down on the rocks for a while, they would quickly get used to me. Soon enough, they walked within feet of me, nearly landing on me to avoid the crashing waves. I crawled along the rocks to get a better vantage point and pictures for so long that the sunlight faded. I snapped a shot right as a huge wave crested behind this sandpiper, spraying both me and the bird with saltwater.

17. Redwing by Gail Bisson

A Redwing sits on a purple lupine, its body in profile. The buds in the forefront are in color while the ones in the back are blurred, providing a light background that offsets the bird’s rusty orange breast and brown wing.
Category: AmateurLocation: Husavik, Iceland

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 2000

Behind the Shot: I rented a cabin on a large pond near Iceland’s Skjalfandi Bay for three nights last June. We had a brief window during our visit of cloudy weather with no rain or wind. I quickly donned my rain gear, grabbed my camera, and headed toward the ocean. I followed a walking path that wove its way through lupine fields on one side and paddocks containing Icelandic ponies on the other. Several Redwings flitted among the lupines, calling and displaying as they perched atop the flowers. The colorful scene of soft purples and greens was a perfect backdrop for the Redwing’s muted colors. This image was my favorite of the bunch I took.

18. Northern Cardinal by Baoting Chen

While snow falls a single red Northern Cardinal perches on a branch in the lower right-hand corner of the frame, the bird’s back to the camera, its head in profile as it turns to the left. The branch bears bright red berries that matches the bird.
Category: AmateurLocation: Holmdel, New Jersey

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L @ 300mm lens; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 2500

Behind the Shot: This photo was taken in the backyard of my home. During each fall and winter, Northern Cardinals will come to eat berries off the trees in the area. On this afternoon after rain turned into snow, several cardinals came to feast on berries, and I was able to capture this image of one of them.

19. Red-naped Sapsucker by Karen Bilgrai Cohen

A red-crowned Red-naped Sapsucker peeks its head from a hole in a birch tree on the left side of the image, a fecal sac covered in wood chips in its bill. Behind the white-barked tree and bird’s head is a blurred green background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE f/4 600mm GM OSS lens; 1/800 second at f/4.5; ISO 1250

Behind the Shot: When I found an active Red-naped Sapsucker nest, I saw firsthand the work parents did to feed and care for their brood. With my gear on a tripod, I positioned myself to watch their comings and goings. The chicks inside were too young to poke out of the hole, but both parents regularly brought larva and insects to the nest. They’d also carry off fecal sacs—little packages of poop—like the one covered in wood chips pictured here. Sometimes, the female would try to exit the nest just as the male flew in, blocking the hole. He would then lean his body to the side to allow her to fly out.

20. Burrowing Owl by Karen Bilgrai Cohen

: Two Burrowing Owls chicks stand on dirt mount against a blurred green field. One bird faces the camera directly, a yellow mustard stalk in its bill, the other looking at the camera over its shoulder.
Category: AmateurLocation: Ontario, California

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens; 1/500 second at f/4.5; ISO 320

Behind the Shot: Several nests of Burrowing Owls appear yearly at the very edge of a well-used road near the Ontario airport. Most are cautious and timid, but one group of birds lives on a busy highway and seem undisturbed by vehicles. I always arrive before sunrise in hopes of observing the family and young owlets when they first emerge from their nest. Crouching on the ground in the shadow of my car, I use a long lens so I don’t have to get too close. On this morning, two young owlets nuzzled each other as they waited for their parents to bring breakfast. One young bird played with and nibbled at a stalk of wild mustard.

21. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck by Dawn Wilson

A single Black-bellied Whistling-Duck standing in a flock stretches its head higher than the other birds. The bird’s bill is open, expelling a puff of steam from the bird’s breath in front of a brown background that reflects the birds’ coloring.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Lafreniere Park, Metairie, Louisiana

Camera: Nikon D850 with an AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 160

Behind the Shot: This park offers winter refuge for hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a variety of other migrating birds. On this January morning, the temperatures were well below freezing, an unusual occurrence in southern Louisiana. I went to the park before sunrise hoping I could catch the backlit, frosty breath of a singing bird. I positioned myself low on the ground, which unfortunately, becomes covered in bird excrement in winter. To avoid the messy poo, I wear fishing waders and don’t worry about looking like an oddball at an urban park. As I faced the rising sun, one duck lifted its head above the others and stretched its neck as it let out its breath while whistling.

22. Atlantic Puffin by Kelley Luikey

A single Atlantic Puffin stands in profile on a rock cliff, the full moon framing its face and highlighting the yellow and orange coloring of the bird’s bill.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Elliston, Newfoundland, Canada

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 600 f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/320 second at f/6.3; ISO 5000

Behind the Shot: Last summer while on a family trip, I snuck in a little camera time to photograph Atlantic Puffins. My husband and daughter joined me on our last night, climbing a little hill to watch. As I photographed a few puffins in the flowers, my daughter noticed the moon rising and signaled to me. What a moment! I quickly got to a spot where I could photograph the birds and moon together. Unfortunately, swarms of bugs ruined my first shots, but I got some photographs without them. Quite a few puffins flew in and out, so the next challenge became isolating one individual. I loved this one with the single bird and the moon.

23. American Flamingo by Baoting Chen

Two pairs of reddish pink flamingos face each other while standing in profile in a lagoon. Two have their necks outstretched, the other two’s necks are slightly curved against a blurry background of blue sky, greenery, and a sandy beach.
Category: AmateurLocation: Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, Mexico

Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 lens; 1/2500 second at f/10; ISO 640

Behind the Shot: Every May, about 20,000 flamingos come to mate in Rio Lagartos, Mexico. The estuary is perfect for flamingos, who enjoy the red algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that live in the salt water. I reached the area by taking a four-hour drive from Cancun and took this photograph while standing in waist-deep water. These four flamingos moved and stretched while I photographed, showing the flexibility and grace of their long necks as they fought for their mates.

24. Ring-necked Pheasant by Adam Olsen

A male pheasant in flight, its wings outstretched, fills the frame, its back to the lens. Light filters through the ends of its wing feathers, the tips illuminated against a background of beige wetlands brush.
Category: AmateurLocation: Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, Farmington, Utah

Camera: Olympus OM-1 M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: The day I captured this photograph there was a dusting of snow on the ground, partially cloudy skies, and tons of birds to watch. I decided to take a different trail than usual because I was hoping to see a Great Blue Heron. As I walked, I startled a group of pheasants that immediately took flight (and scared the daylights out of me). I quickly swung my lens around and started shooting. The moment happened so fast I barely had time to get my eye to the viewfinder, but I caught a glimpse of the pheasant’s wings out and knew I got at least one good shot.

25. Common Raven by Shane Kalyn

 Two Common Raven stand in profile looking at each other. The one on the left rests its bill on the other’s bill, its left eyelid closed, the blue membrane looking like a jewel.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 1400

Behind the Shot: I find ravens completely fascinating; they are highly complex and extremely intelligent animals. I take every opportunity I can to visit Common Ravens as I am always blown away by the intimate bonds they share with one another. As these two preened each other’s feathers, the raven on the left rested its beak on the other, a fleeting moment I was happy to capture as it shows the love these two have for each other, a bond that lasts a lifetime.

26. Carolina Wren by Hal Moran

A pair of Carolina wrens stand atop a rock perch that contains a spot of moss and the remnant strands of very fine white plant down. The wrens face each other, one slightly higher, against a blurred gray background.
Category: AmateurLocation: St. Charles, Missouri

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/320 second at f/7.1; ISO setting 2000

Behind the Shot: My wife and I have a small patch of woods with a creek behind our home. As we continue to improve our landscape, we use discarded material and deadfall as habitat for small birds. This photo was taken in early March, when wrens begin building their nests for breeding season. Nearby plant down seemed to be the connection between these two homebuilders.

27. Gyrfalcon by Kate Persons

Two fledgling Gyrfalcons stand in profile, one slightly behind the other, mouths open. The one in front has it wings outstretched, both backlit and outlined in gold, a tree branch protruding from the lower right side of the frame.
Category: AmateurLocation: Alaska

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: A pair of Gyrfalcons nests under a roadway bridge near my home. On a late June evening, I was surprised to find the young falcons standing on the structure screeching as they waited for their parent to bring dinner. Initially the light was harsh, but there was potential for some nice backlight when the sun dropped behind the ridge across the valley. When the sun finally set, backlight accentuated a halo of downy feathers around the fledglings. Strands of a spider web lofted in the still air and swarms of gnats and mosquitoes glowed. This shot was taken just as one of the parents landed with prey. The hungry youngsters instantly launched, screaming towards their provider.

28. Brown Skua by Bill Klipp

Three skuas stand around a bloody ribcage of an elephant seal carcass in the foreground, another skua flying in from the back. One bird stands behind the body, its wings outstretched against a backdrop of rugged steep snow-covered mountains and glaciers.
Category: AmateurLocation: Gold Harbor, South Georgia Island

Camera: Nikon D300 with an AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR at 24mm lens and UV filter; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 400

Behind the Shot: Wandering the beaches of South Georgia Island, where animal activity abounds, is heaven for wildlife photographers. When I was there, an elephant seal pup carcass washed up on the beach and a group of hungry and aggressive Brown Skuas and Giant Petrels quickly attacked. I slowly approached the birds, who took no interest in my presence. I got down low with my wide-angle lens and tried to capture the shot at their eye level, with the mountains and sky in the background. The birds were more concerned with getting a quick bite and protecting their position on the carcass. I like this particular shot, as I captured a skua coming in for a landing.

29. Wood Duck by Scott Suriano

A Wood Duck swims directly toward the camera with its chestnut-colored chest, tan body, green head, purplish cheeks, and red, yellow, and white beak, all complementing its striking red eyes. Vegetation that lines the shore frames the duck.
Category: AmateurLocation: Gwynns Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with an EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/4.0; ISO 640

Behind the Shot: As winter was coming to a close, the forecast called for a heavy snowstorm. Knowing that some Wood Ducks had already returned to the local pond, I quickly headed there, donned my waders, and slipped into the frigid waters with the hope of capturing something unique. I eagerly tried out the floating device I built over the winter that consisted of two pieces of plywood around a boogie board and a clamp to safely hold my camera and long lens. The contraption allowed me to shoot just inches above the water’s surface without having to adjust tripod legs. My effort was rewarded with an eye-level, head-on scenic photo of this colorful drake in the snowfall.

30. Allen’s Hummingbird by Faith Barton

A male Allen's Hummingbird perches on a black chain-link fence. The bird's sharply focused rusty-orange body, olive-green crown, and iridescent orange-red throat feathers are similar to the rich pink and green hues from an out of focus bougainvillea.
Category: AmateurLocation: San Diego, California

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG DN OS lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

Behind the Shot: On a walk through my neighborhood one spring morning, I entered the domain of a territorial Allen’s Hummingbird. The bird’s photogenic looks and energetic personality never cease to enamor me. It chased away rivals and fed at purple Pride of Madeira flowers, returning to his perch on a chain-link fence. I looked for a unique way to capture him and settled for a view parallel to the fence. I set my aperture low for a shallow depth of field, noticing how the blurred fence added an intriguing element to the picture. I love how this image captures the bird’s orange gorget and colorful splashes of pink bougainvillea flowers in the background.

31. Scarlet Macaw by Rex Andersen

A Scarlet Macaw sitting on a rock looks up, its long tail sticking out behind it like an arrow. The macaw’s white face and beak and bright red and blue feathers are a stark contrast to the brown mud and rock around him.
Category: AmateurLocation: Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and a Tiffen Haze-1 filter; 1/125 second at f/5; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: After a guided canoe ride down Napo River tributary and a short hike into the Amazon, I came upon a small open-air shelter. The opening faced a clay lick where I expected to see a swarm of colorful parrots and canaries biting bits of clay that serve as nutritional supplements to their diet, but the birds never came. Finally, two Scarlet Macaws stopped by to drink from the water below the clay lick. I got an interesting shot when one took a long drink and looked up with water still dripping off his beak. The light shone through the canopy onto the bird, highlighting its color and the sparkle of the water droplets.

32. Long-billed Curlew by Elizabeth Yicheng Shen

A Long-billed Curlew with wings stretched behind it flies in profile, ready to land in a lagoon. It appears to be running on the water, its buff-colored body reflecting the blurred background behind it.
Category: AmateurLocation: San Mateo County, California

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens and Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/1600 second at f/4; ISO 640

Behind the Shot: I was out walking along the California coast watching for migratory birds when I noticed a marsh area next to the beach. A few of my target birds eventually flew by and some cute seals in the ocean played peekaboo, but this beautiful bird circling the lagoon really grabbed my attention. Long-billed Curlews are not uncommon in my area. However, the species’ elegance and almost impossibly long, thin, curved bill always make it stand out among numerous shorebirds. When this bird finally landed in the lagoon, it held its wings up while its long legs ran on the water in what looks like a beautiful dance.

33. Eastern Towhee by Ronan Nicholson

The silhouette of a singing bird shows through shadowy branches that slant upward to the right. The bird is perched on the left most of the branches against orange hues, with dark patches on the edges of the frame.
Category: YouthLocation: Pisgah National Forest, Candler, North Carolina

Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM; 1/60 second at f/6.3; ISO 500

Behind the Shot: Most days around peak migration, I get up before sunrise and visit the temperate rainforest near my house. I bird where towhees call but are rarely seen as they forage in the newly green undergrowth. One day, I saw one hop to the lowest branch of a tulip tree and continue to climb. I climbed a hill so I could be level with the top of the tree, where the bird started singing just as the sun peeked through the forest on the opposite ridge. I took a few photos before it flew away, but I didn’t think I captured anything useable. I only noticed the quality of this series when I got home.

34. Rufous Hummingbird by Tim Nicol

A Rufous Hummingbird sits in profile on one end of a y-shaped branch, a tuft of moss in the middle against a brown background, a sharp contrast to his orange coloring.
Category: AmateurLocation: Republic, Washington

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: Every year around the end of April, the male Rufous Hummingbirds return to the mountains in the eastern part of the state. I watch them enjoy my garden, complete with feeders, water features, and loads of native plants. The male Rufous Hummingbird is my favorite with his vibrant orange gorget and overall fierceness. I usually hear their very distinctive vocalizations before I actually see them. The male Calliope and Black-chinned hummingbirds are usually not far behind. This particular male returned to this perch over and over again. I focused on the perch and waited for him to return. I really liked the complementary clear background, and the wispy moss really added to the shot.

35. Common Gallinule by Joshua Galicki

A Common Gallinule walks across a road, its body in profile and the bright yellow lines on the asphalt beneath it. The bird’s yellow legs match the painted lines, its dark body contrasting with the blurred light background.
Category: AmateurLocation: Dorchester County, Maryland

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4 IS III USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 640

Behind the Shot: I was driving slowly along a remote, coastal road looking for migrant birds when I came across this Common Gallinule itching to cross the road. I backed my vehicle to the roadside and slowly got out and laid underneath the car with my telephoto lens. Almost instantly the gallinule decided to walk across, giving me an intimate perspective and unique opportunity for an interesting shot. I was able to use the yellow lines of the road to support the composition and also tell a story.

A Snowy Egret stands in profile in shallow water, its head submerged and a splash of water surrounding it. The still water reflects the lemon-yellow sky, highlighting the bird’s white plumage.
Category: AmateurLocation: Eastern Shore, Maryland

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens; 1/2000 at f/4; ISO 400

Behind the Shot: One morning I spent hours lying in the muddy marshes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore photographing birds. Eventually one of the Snowy Egrets that frequent this area flew in close to me to hunt. The morning sun had lit the background foliage gold, and the bird landed in shadow, providing a yellow backdrop for the scene and nice even light on the subject. I watched the bird hunt, hoping to capture some action before the perfect conditions changed. Luckily, I was able to capture this frame right when the bird dove down for prey. I was very happy to be able to freeze the bird, splash, and water droplets created by the action.

37. Golden-bellied Flycatcher by Linda Scher

Category: AmateurLocation: San Jorge Eco Lodge, lower Tandayapa Valley, Ecuador

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 12800

Behind the Shot: After a wonderful trip to the Galapagos Islands, we couldn’t resist heading north out of Quito to experience the enormous variety of birds in the Andes Mountains. Our final stop was an eco-lodge in the cloud forest. Early one morning, we went to a bird blind positioned in an area filled with insects and the bug-eating birds that feast on them. There was so much activity it was hard to know where to look first. I followed this colorful flycatcher as he caught a moth and brought it to this beautiful mossy branch. As he tossed the moth around to reposition it, I captured a series of seven shots, culminating with this photo.

38. Green Heron by Bryan Putnam

A down-tufted juvenile Green Heron perched on a branch stares directly at the lens, its yellow beak pointing straight and its brown and white striped feathers contrasting with the green foliage around it. A single follicle on the head sticks straight up.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Greenfield Lake, Wilmington, North Carolina

Camera: Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens; 1/200 second at f/7.1; ISO 3200

Behind the Shot: I am obsessed with juvenile herons, and my absolute favorites are the ones of Greenfield Lake. Adults usually nest in the thick overgrowth near the base of water-bound bald cypress trees, so their chicks are rarely seen by visitors who stay to the walking paths. But from my kayak their activity is apparent. In the late spring I set out, camera at the ready, in search of the tuft-covered fledglings emerging onto the low cypress branches. There they explore their new, still flightless world. It is incredible to witness them learning to perch and forage for insects and fish, and in the best-case scenarios, see them in their first flight to the nearby trees!

39. Common Tern and Laughing Gull by Scott Dere

A Laughing Gull in the center of the frame looks ready to steal food being passed from another gull near the ground and one in the air, their wings outstretched, as another gull behind them calls, bill open, against a blurred beach backdrop.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Nickerson Beach, Long Island, New York

Camera: Canon-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/4.5; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: To capture my favorite moments of terns in action, I listen carefully. Common Tern chicks can hear their parent calling from a distance as the adults return to shore with food. In their excitement to get fed, the chicks call and run out of their hiding in hopes of being the first to receive their meal from the incoming parent. Chaos ensues as food passes between siblings and rival terns close by. During the wild commotion captured here, a Laughing Gull proceeded to dive in to take advantage of the tug-of-war below. The mother tern instantly went on the offense, flanking the intruding gull in flight while screaming wildly.

40. Semipalmated Sandpiper by Hector Cordero

A Semipalmated Sandpiper in the middle-left of the image stands on a beach, the sand in front blurred and an out-of-focus Royal Tern in the background appearing to dwarf the sandpiper.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Long Island, New York

Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM II lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: I took this photo while photographing a group of Royal Terns. I was surprised when I saw a Semipalmated Sandpiper flying in from the back and darting quickly around the feeding terns. As I observed this scene, the concept of scale came to mind. Scale can be used to create emphasis and draw attention to certain elements in a composition. Larger elements are typically more dominant and eye-catching, while smaller elements can be used to support and complement them. In this photograph, I aimed to reverse this composition rule by focusing on the small bird and keeping the Royal Tern out of focus.

41. Sandhill Crane by Adrienne Elliot

Two Sandhill Cranes stand with their heads down and backs to the camera, their wings outstretched. One balances perfectly on the other’s shoulders in front of a blue and tan background.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Lakeshore Park, Novi, Michigan

Camera: Sony Alpha A7R II with a Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/250 second at f/6.3; ISO 400

Behind the Shot: On a frigid late winter morning, I headed to a local park with my camera in hand for fresh air, exercise, and nature photography. I pulled into the parking lot and saw two foraging Sandhill Cranes. Using my camera and a monopod, I took several dozen photographs, excited to see them in a landscape with colors that so beautifully harmonized with the colors of their feathers. Then the male crane silently began moving closer and closer to the female. He leaped onto her and steadied himself for a second before mating. I captured this shot at that exact moment, thrilled to witness and photograph these beautiful birds with such an awe-inspiring display of near-perfect symmetry.

42. Allen’s Hummingbird by Faith Barton

An Allen's Hummingbird balances on a small branch surrounded by small white flowers and light pink buds. Facing the camera the bird shows off its rusty orange body and orange-red throat while its wings are fully outstretched against a green background.
Category: YouthLocation: San Diego, California

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG DN OS lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

Behind the Shot: One late-January morning, while walking through my neighborhood, I caught sight of this adult male Allen’s Hummingbird zipping around. After chasing away rival hummingbirds or sipping nectar from a nearby honeysuckle plant, he would return to the same branch in a blossoming fruit tree. Observing this behavior, I set up my camera and tripod while he was away, anticipating his next return. Hearing the familiar buzz of the hummingbird’s wingbeats, I readied myself and clicked the shutter as the bird landed. I didn’t quite get the image I wanted, so I waited for him to take off and land again. It took several tries and lots of patience, but I was finally rewarded with this clear shot.

43. Cedar Waxwing by Kevin Lohman

A Cedar Waxwing perches on a leafy cotoneaster branch, clumps of bright red berries hanging below. One red berry is in midair between the bird’s bill, the bird leaning forward to catch it.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Santa Cruz, California

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/4.0; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: I was looking through my kitchen window when I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings invade a cotoneaster plant across the street. I grabbed my camera and walked over, positioning myself behind a large tree so that I would not disturb the birds as they quickly picked berries, swallowing them whole. As I watched, I noticed one waxwing on the end of a branch, isolated from the others. It was picking lots of berries and would occasionally toss one into the air to reposition it. The fast frame rate of the camera (20 frames per second) allowed me to get this image of the berry just before it went down the hatch.

44. Rufous Hummingbird by Robert Dodson

A Rufous Hummingbird flies head-on toward the camera, its bill pointing down and wings in mid-flight. The bird’s bright colors and pink gorget are accentuated by a light blue background and purple flowers in lower part of the frame.
Category: AmateurLocation: Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada

Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II; 1/200 second at f/16; ISO 320

Behind the Shot: In May, Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds migrate to British Columbia to feed on blooming wildflowers. The male Rufous dominate the show by fiercely guarding food sources and competing for females. I wanted to show the fearsome, aggressive nature of these amazing little birds by capturing a tightly framed, head-on shot while the bird was in flight. To get this image, I placed a mini hummingbird feeder among the flowers and used a low-level flash to freeze the wing action and illuminate the translucent chest feathers. I also used a telephoto lens from eight feet away, giving the shot a macro look with a shallow depth of field, even with a small aperture.

45. Osprey by Douglas DeFelice

A brown and white Osprey flies in the air, water droplets around it from shaking in the air, a blurred blue sky and green foliage in the background.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Tarpon Springs, Florida

Camera: Canon R3 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM and Canon Extender EF 2x; 1/2500 second at f/8; ISO setting 640

Behind the Shot: I was observing this Osprey diving for fish in a lake near my house when it came up from the water with nothing in its talons. As it took to the air, it shook the water from its feathers, contorting its body with its eyes closed and neck extended, water droplets flying from its body. I love Osprey and love watching them dive.

46. Mallard by Steve Jessmore

 A thin shaft of sunlight slices down a male Mallard’s emerald head, briefly highlighting his eye. The duck swims in profile in brown and blue water.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Rapid City, Michigan

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and a Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 500

Behind the Shot: I was photographing from the edge of the Torch River on a sunny March day. A number of migrating ducks like Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, and Common Goldeneye fed on the river, which was mostly open and free of ice. As I scanned the water, I noticed a pair of Mallards. As they neared shore, a shaft of light hit the male’s head. I took a few shots with his eye centered in the light. It’s hard to know what to photograph at any given time, to know which opportunity will make the better picture or be more interactive. This was one of those times it seemed there was an opportunity to make the ordinary extraordinary.

47. Chinstrap Penguin by Deena Sveinsson

A Chinstrap Penguin peers at the frame, its face and breast visible above a snowbank. The black of its head, wing tips, and line on its chin stand out against the white background and bottom of the frame.
Category: AmateurLocation: Half Moon Island, South Shetlands, Antarctica

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 500

Behind the Shot: After a tumultuous crossing of the Drake Passage, numerous delays, and multiple weather problems, our unassuming ship finally arrived in Antarctica, where we met a beautiful and pristine snowy landscape. I wanted to capture a Chinstrap Penguin in a unique pose or situation and take advantage of the environment. While slowly making my way through the deep snow with a knee brace, I found a small snowbank. I then waited for a Chinstrap Penguin to waddle into the correct position. Finally, as my legs were getting tired and as the guides began to get all the guests back to the boat, I got the pose I imagined.

48. Brown Pelican by Tim Timmis

The dark silhouettes of three pelicans with their wings extended glide just above glassy ocean water that reflects the soft orange morning sky.
Category: AmateurLocation: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, Texas

Camera: Canon EOS R3 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and Skimmer Ground Pod; 1/1000 second at f/7; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: While taking shorebird photos lying in the mudflats with my ground pod, I spotted this group of pelicans flying toward me at a distance. I tracked them along their flight path until they dove close to the water and glided along just above the water, which made for a great photo opportunity. I decided to use a pano crop to emphasize the birds flying just above the water in the glow of the early morning sunrise.

49. Elegant Trogon by Joshua Pelta-Heller

An Elegant Trogon with a yellow beak, gray wings, and a bright red belly sits on the end of a brown branch on the left side of the image. Its body faces right, but its head faces left, a sharp contrast to the pale yellow-green, blurred backgroumd.
Category: AmateurLocation: Madera Canyon, Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/400 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: My mom and dad took my two brothers and me to Arizona for the first time in the 1990s when I was in seventh grade. “There are trogons there,” my dad told me. Even then the distant promise of an exotic wildlife encounter could grab my attention. But we didn’t see trogons, which nest in Madera Canyon, a place that I would later learn marks the northernmost breeding-range boundary of this beautiful Central American bird. When I made it there in May 2022, a trogon gracefully coasted from a roost to land on a nearby bough. My dad passed away seven years after our first Arizona trip. He would’ve enjoyed visiting Madera. There are trogons there.

50. Bald Eagle by Bonnie Block

A white-bellied, gray-winged Eastern Kingbird flies toward the camera with wings outstretched and tail spread open. Its dark coloring stands out against a background of blurred yellow-green leaves.
Category: ProfessionalLocation: Seabeck, Washington

Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/2000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: In late spring, the plainfin midshipman fish come out of the Hood Canal’s deep waters to spawn amid the oyster beds that line the shoreline. The fish can breathe air and often end up trapped in the beds as the tide goes out. Bald Eagles congregate in the area every year to take advantage of the abundant food source. Eagles spar for the rights to a meal, and their aerial acrobatics are amazing to witness. I visit this area annually to watch the raptors and photograph their interactions. Coordinating the tides, good light, and good weather is always a challenge. Once in a while it all comes together!

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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