This year more than 2,000 photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted images to Audubon magazine’s 12th annual Audubon Photography Awards, and our panel of expert judges whittled down the entries to eight stunning winners and five honorable mentions. With more than 9,000 photographs entered in the contest, there was an abundance of exceptional avian images from which we selected 100 additional shots to share.

Displayed in no particular order, these photos feature birdlife at its most vivid, vulnerable, formidable, and playful. There are intimate portraits that reveal exquisite details, action shots that capture powerful raptors on the hunt, and arresting images that celebrate a wide array of bird behavior. So settle in and prepare to be enchanted with the beauty and variety of birdlife and impressed by the resourcefulness of bird photographers.

And if you’re inspired to pick up a camera and pursue avian subjects of your own, our photography section has everything you need to get started, including tips and how-to’sAudubon’s ethical guidelines for wildlife photography, and gear recommendations. Next year, it could be your shot that makes the cut. 

1. Black-necked Stilts by Jack Zhi

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  • Category: Youth

  • Location: San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine, CA

  • Camera: Sony a9 II with a Sony 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and 1.4x Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I had set my gear on the mud at the water’s edge to get a low angle and was looking down at my flip-out LCD screen when this little Black-necked Stilt emerged from behind the reeds with its mother. I took a few shots as the chick struggled to stand up, catching this perfect moment when mama caught the little one with her foot.

2. Baltimore Oriole by Sharon Dobben

An orange-and-black Baltimore Oriole sings from its perch on an eastern white pine branch. The bird is small against a blue sky filled with white clouds, but its vibrant colors make it stand out against the sky and tree’s green needles.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Flossmoor, IL

  • Camera: Canon EOS 80D with a Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/5; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Last May spring migration was an especially welcome distraction during the COVID-19 shutdown. On this day, I spotted a warbler in the yard, grabbed my camera, and hustled outside, but a Baltimore Oriole singing its heart out distracted me. I spotted it three backyards away perched on a high branch of a tall eastern white pine. I got two quick shots before he flew off, and only this one was in focus. I was grateful to have captured the oriole’s orange and black against the greens and blues of the trees, shadows, and sky. Hearing the oriole singing that evening was just what I needed.

3. Red-headed Woodpecker by Vance Solseth

The frame is divided in two, and the left side provides an out-of-focus background. On the right is a barkless light tan snag riddled with insect holes. In the center of the tree is a large hole where a Red-headed Woodpecker peeks out. Its red head—the only visible part of its body—is cocked to the side.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lake Murray, Lexington, SC

  • Camera: Sony a7III with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: Out on the lake near my home, snags on several small islands house nesting birds in the spring and early summer. I kayaked out early one morning, hid my boat under a tree, and set up my blind so I could see a cavity where Red-headed Woodpeckers were making a nest. I stayed as far away and as quiet as possible so as not to disturb their behavior. I love this frame because the bird looks so inquisitive as it scans its surroundings.

4. Green Heron by Ilai Porat

Olive-and-emerald-green feathers fold over each other in a close-up shot of the back of a Green Heron. Only a small section of its body is pictured. Yellow-edged feathers on its side provide depth to the image. Bubbles from the water in which the bird is standing appear as globes, with bright green plants focused in the foreground.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Fort Myers, FL

  • Camera: Nikon D7500 DSLR with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: As I walked through a Florida wetland, I noticed this Green Heron standing silently and completely still near the water. The bird was very close to the trail and had no fear of me, so I was able to zoom in on its feathers. It was the first time I had really seen the green feathers on its back and was finally able to understand how the bird got its name. These herons are also really small, so I felt extremely privileged to have been able to view one from so close.

5. American Woodcock by Alexander Eisengart

An American Woodcock, its outstretched wings high behind it, stands in brown fallen leaves that reflect its buff color. Its long bill points to the ground in profile, with a blurred stone background lined with dead orange leaves behind it.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Cleveland, OH

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a6400 with a Sony E 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: The American Woodcock is my favorite bird, and I made it my mission to photograph one. I looked at eBird and found people reporting the species at a cemetery in the middle of the city. I entered the concrete jungle to find a small oasis: a graveyard that teemed with life during migration season. Only a few minutes after entering this green space, I found the woodcock despite its insane camouflage. I hid behind a tree and snapped photos as it put on a show, flapping its wings as if to show off its beauty.

6. Allen’s Hummingbird by Eric J. Smith

An Allen’s Hummingbird looks up, it’s beak like a spear pointing to the upper right-hand corner of the frame. The bird’s brown neck feathers look like striated scallops that lead up to the beak, on which a tiny fig wasp rests. The hummingbird appears to look at its hitchhiker.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: As the COVID-19 pandemic raged last summer, so did wildfires in southern California. Stuck at home alone with an air conditioner on the fritz, I had breakfast on my deck every morning, where I saw a single Allen’s Hummingbird perched on the branch of my potted olive tree. The bird became a regular, and I started bringing my camera with the morning coffee. On this day I noticed something on the hummingbird’s beak. The bird flew away and returned a half a dozen times without shaking the object. When I reviewed the photos, I realized a fig wasp had hitched a ride. It was a moment of wonder and delight in a season of dark times.

7. Northern Mockingbird by Katrina Baker

A Northern Mockingbird perches on a small branch of a tree, its legs fully extended. The bird’s body faces the camera with its head turned to the side and one eye staring intently at the lens. The bird’s muted grays and browns helps it to blend in with the tree’s branches, while the surrounding green and yellow foliage provides contrasts.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Eighty Four, PA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: Sitting quietly in my backyard watching and occasionally photographing birds in a nearby tree, I noticed this Northern Mockingbird acting on its natural territorial instinct. Whenever another bird landed on a nearby branch, it would swoop, hop, or scold until the intruder departed. When the mockingbird seemed to notice me across the yard, it hopped onto the arch of this branch, stood tall, and turned its commanding gaze in my direction. It didn’t seem to mind me capturing photos, but that intense stare made it clear the tree was off-limits.

8. Brown Booby by Lawrence Worcester

A Brown Booby flies toward the camera over a rocky beach with its wings extended, twisting to shake off water mid-air. Tiny water droplets fly in all directions, creating a halo of shining beads around the bird in flight. In the background, a steep green cliff rises above the sandy rocks and sea foam to meet a partly cloudy sky.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pasture Bay, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/5; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Brown Boobies feasting on schooling fish barely had time to shake off water when surfacing before going back at it. This was the only time I witnessed one of the birds shudder its full body, and while flying directly at me. I was pretty sure I had gotten the split-second action that I worked so hard to capture. The word “booby” derives from the Spanish word bobo, meaning foolish and sometimes clumsy. This clearly refers to their walk and not their flight!

9. Harlequin Ducks by Matthew Reitinger

Three Harlequin Duck drakes face outward in opposite directions from a central point at the center of the image. Only their black-and-white heads and necks are visible as a splash is suspended in the air around them.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Barnegat Light State Park, NJ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/800 second at f/8.0; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: One cold January morning, I walked along the jetty looking for ducks when I spotted a few Harlequin Ducks swimming near the rocks. I struggled to find a suitable perch that wasn’t too slippery so I could get as low to the water as possible. Once I found one, I settled in and waited for the ducks to approach. When they did, one of them moved suddenly, causing them to splash, a moment I captured in this image.

10. Sandhill Crane by Xianwei Zeng

A Sandhill Crane looks out over a field of yellow and white wildflowers in the rain, its yellow eye matching the blooms. The bird’s long neck extends beyond the plants, its red-capped head is turned to the left.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2X III; 1/160 second at f/11; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: Tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes stopover in southern Ontario in the fall before migrating to the southern United States and Mexico. They roost in local marshes, fly to harvested corn and grass fields in the early morning to feed, and then return to roost in the afternoon. One morning during a heavy downpour, several Sandhill Cranes fed in a field filled with wildflowers. Whenever possible, I try to get eye-level shots when photographing birds, so I got out of my car, set up my tripod to get a lower angle, and quickly snapped this beautiful portrait.

11. Great Egrets by Xianwei Zeng

Great Egret parents stand in a nest made of sticks, wispy feathers coming off their backs and their necks crisscrossing as they bend low to feed three fuzzy chicks. Two of the chicks raise their yellow bills up to receive a regurgitated meal from a parent.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Xiangshan Forest Park, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Hundreds of Great Egrets return to eastern China’s Xiangshan Forest Park in early spring to breed, building their nests high in fir trees. The rivers and lakes nearby provide abundant fish to feed the birds and their chicks. Two years ago, I spent three weeks there observing and photographing the Great Egrets. Females lay one to six eggs, and both mates take turns incubating them, and, once they hatch, feeding the newborns. In order to get low-angle shots, I stood on a farmer’s house. I usually saw only one parent feeding the chicks at a time, but on this rainy day both adults fed the babies simultaneously. I quickly snapped a few shots of the family in one frame.

12. White Ibis by Kelley Luikey

A White Ibis, brilliant white with just a touch of black on the wingtips, stands on a maple tree branch, its bright red legs and bill matching the red leaves. Thousands of tiny flying insects backlit by the late afternoon sun fill the frame like snow.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Audubon Swamp Garden, Charleston, SC

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1000 at f/4; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: As a bird photographer in the South, I deal with biting, swarming, and stinging bugs year-round. On this early March afternoon, though, the bugs became part of the scene. I arrived at one of my favorite rookeries, set up my camera, and took a peek in the viewfinder to find thousands of bugs backlit and framed by the glowing red samaras of a maple tree. Within a few minutes, a White Ibis in bright breeding colors landed on a branch. I framed it with the tree in the foreground and the fairy-like bugs floating all around.

13. Trumpeter Swans by Lisa Sproat

A group of five snowy white Trumpeter Swans stand in a circle in a lush green field. Necks erect, beaks agape, and wings open, they face each other as if around a dinner table. Several haven't even finished their last mouthful of grass.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Skagit County, WA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: In the fall thousands of Trumpeter Swans fly south from their summer breeding grounds to make Skagit Valley’s agricultural fields their winter home. The swans eat voraciously, picking through fields that stain their white feathers muddy brown. This group was feeding quietly when the pair on the left made a grab for their neighbors’ patch. Mouths full, they beat their wings and honked in unison. The resident group stood its ground and displayed right back, looking like family arguing over a holiday dinner. With one vicious bite, the residents prevailed, and the field grew quiet again.

14. Lappet-faced Vulture by Staci Winston

A Lappet-faced Vulture holds up one wing in front of its pink head, one eye looking at the camera through a slit in the long wing feathers extending down.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, MO

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/8000 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: My initial interest in this fascinating bird was its intense presence, large size, hooked sharp beak, and bright-pink-and-purple hues on its face. I spent an hour photographing this vulture, and my husband and I were mostly alone at its exhibit. Near the end of the shoot, the vulture jumped to the ground and spread its wings along its side. It peeked through a gap in the feathers and locked a single intense eye on my camera. I hope people viewing this image will be intrigued to learn more about this bird and its importance as a scavenger in nature.

15. Western Sandpiper by Rick Evans

A Western Sandpiper bathes in the shallow water of an estuary. Water beads up in lacy patterns rolling off its brown-and-white feathers. The bird’s eye is nearly closed, and the whole scene has a dreamlike quality from low fog subduing the sunlight and surrounding the bird with a soft, cloudy background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Santa Clara River Estuary, Ventura, CA

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens and Urth 95mm Circular Polarizer; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: One cool January morning I went to the beach with the intention of photographing flocks of shorebirds flying along the coast, but a dense fog came up from the south. I shifted gears and moved over to a nearby estuary where I found Sanderlings, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Plovers, Western Sandpipers, and a Killdeer feeding and preening. The fog filled up the whole area and really softened the sunlight. All the photos I took began to take on a silky, dreamy vibe. The birds looked like they were bathing in a cloud.

16. Red-winged Blackbird by Walter Potrebka

An adult female Red-winged Blackbird sings while grasping a fuzzy cattail flower with her claw. The early morning light illuminates her beautifully streaked brown body and the subtle yellowy red color found along her shoulders and near her eye. The morning sun reflects in her eye and her open beak. You can almost hear her song.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Portage la Prairie Spillway Park, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 2X; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: On a June day I went to photograph American White Pelicans, but none were to be found. Disappointed, I walked back to my vehicle and heard Red-winged Blackbirds calling from a marshy area. This female was landing on various cattails nearby. I waited for almost an hour for her to land on one that would give the image a nicely blurred background and show off her shoulder’s splash of red—colorization that is typically difficult to capture. While the males are usually flashier, the females often demonstrate a more subtle beauty.

17. White-breasted Nuthatch by Ashrith Kandula

A male White-breasted Nuthatch stands sideways in a cavity in a red maple tree. The profile of the blue-and-white nuthatch fills the hole where his mate makes a nest inside the tree, which is covered in gnarled brown-, ivory-, and oatmeal-colored bark.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Wallingford, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x II Teleconverter; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: On a walk around my neighborhood, I spotted a cavity in a red maple tree and noticed a pair of nuthatches using it. The female went inside, and the male made frequent trips to and from the tree, bringing her nest material. I managed to catch the moment when the male stood sideways in the entrance, his body fitting perfectly in the hole, the tree’s beautifully textured bark surrounding him.

18. Golden-fronted Woodpecker by Danny Hancock

A Golden-fronted Woodpecker perches on a rock and dips its bill in the water, exposing red-and-yellow head feathers. Concentric rings emanate from his bill as he drinks, the only things disrupting his reflection in the golden water.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/5; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: In Palo Duro Canyon, water is a valuable and important resource—and a magnet for birds. When I heard a Golden-fronted Woodpecker make harsh, raspy calls, I prepared to rip off a few shots. He arrived a few minutes later and went straight to the water. I faced him head-on and was lucky to capture this photograph of him drinking with his bill just touching the surface, forming neat water rings.

19. Sharp-tailed Grouse by David Slikkers

Against the blank white canvas of a snow-covered field, two Sharp-tailed Grouse fight on their lek. On the right, an airborne grouse, its wings to its sides, appears to have launched itself at its competitor’s neck. On the left, the other grouse leans back on its tail, its legs pushing against the ground and its outstretched wings behind it.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pickford, MI

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/6400 second at f/7.1; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: When I had an opportunity to photograph a Sharp-tailed Grouse last year, I was amazed at their aggressive behavior and the action on the lek. Approximately 10 male grouse gathered, but it wasn’t until one female showed up that they began biting and pulling out each other’s feathers in a fight for dominance. The camera caught so many more details than I thought possible. It was incredible to watch it take place, and we had front-row seats in my blind. I was thrilled to have captured it on film.

20. Sanderlings by Nadia Haq

A row of 18 tiny, mostly white Sanderlings run toward the beach to avoid an incoming wave. In this black-and-white image, the birds’ black bills and legs stand out against the mottled gray waves behind them and the flat, sandy shore in front of them.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Refuge Beach, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newbury, MA

  • Camera: Nikon D810 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor f/4 500mm lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 280

  • Behind the Shot: On a gloomy and cold December day, my husband and I took our then-7-year-old son to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge so we could get a much-needed nature outing during the pandemic. We spotted a flock of Sanderlings scampering on the shore looking for food, and we quickly forgot about the weather. The cute little birds made us giddy, and we sat down side by side with our own separate cameras. I was overjoyed and proud to have my son capturing bird photos next to me.

21. Rhinoceros Auklets by Rhys Logan

Surrounded by rippling water colored golden by the sunset, two silhouetted Rhinoceros Auklets swim side by side in a bay, their profiles showing their horn-like bills.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Chuckanut Bay, WA

  • Camera: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens; 1/8000 second at f/2.8; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: I had never seen a Rhinoceros Auklet in person before, perhaps because they’re nocturnal and typically nest in hard-to-access places. When I encountered these two while kayaking, I was surprised by their penguin-like appearance (deceptive because they’re related to puffins). After the raucous din of thousands of nearby gulls calling and diving around me subsided, these two auklets calmly checked me out, seemingly relaxed and enjoying the sunset as much as I was. I was amazed to learn that every year their “horns” grow in the spring before the birds shed them in late summer.

22. California Quail by Ti Yung Hwa

Framed by green and beige chaparral lining a sandy trail, a California Quail stands on a rock in the middle of the path with its head turned to the side. The bird’s distinctive black topknot hangs like a comma from its forehead.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a7R III with a Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens and a Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/500 second at f/8; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: I didn’t think anything could top seeing majestic California Condors fly overhead as I hiked in Pinnacles National Park, but then I saw this little guy posing for me in the middle of the trail. I immediately crouched down to get this angle of the bird in its element. California Quails, like others of its family, occasionally stand still in open area, but they’ll quickly run into the bushes if they sense a threat. I slowly adjusted and framed this bird between the chaparral shrubs on the sides of the trail.

23. Buff-breasted Sandpiper by Evan Reister

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper walks along a rocky shore of Lake Superior, its neck stretched forward in profile. The slender shorebird’s light brown head and belly feathers contrast with the dark brown scale-like feathers along its back.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Whitefish Point, MI

  • Camera: Nikon D5600 with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/2500 second at f/7.1; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: While walking the beach of Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, I spotted a small group of shorebirds and I worked my way closer to them. I pulled up my binoculars to identify the birds and saw two Semipalmated Sandpipers and this beautiful Buff-breasted Sandpiper, both of which were lifers for me. I got ahead of the Buff-breasted and lay down, waiting until it walked within 10 feet of me, which allowed me to get some amazing photos. The intimate encounter and the beauty of this individual bird combined to land the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on my list of favorite birds.

24. Virginia Rail by Joshua Galicki

A single Virginia Rail partially obscured by blurred flowers in the foreground looks head-on at the camera. The slim line of white feathers above its eyes outline the bird’s red eyes.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Sullivan County, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/4; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: I took this image low to the ground for an intimate perspective, while also incorporating some out of focus foreground elements to supplement—but not distract—from the bird’s gaze. The diffused light provided for some soft, pastel colors that afternoon, which really brought this image together.

25. Sandhill Crane by Megan Bonham

The red crown of a Sandhill Crane stands out against the bird’s blue-gray head feathers, its stubbly texture like a carpet. The photo is a closeup of the bird’s upturned head taken from behind. Its right eye, just visible in profile, resembles a glass marble.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford, MI

  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T6i with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/125 second at f/5.6; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Kensington Metropark is home to several pairs of Sandhill Cranes. Given the park’s popularity, many of the cranes are accustomed to humans. I saw two cranes walking down a trail toward me, so I knelt down and waited for them to approach. I eventually got a traditional portrait. But that evening as I reviewed the day’s photos, I found myself mesmerized by the textures of this “screw-up” image and returned to it over and over again. Sometimes our accidents end up being beautiful.

26. Great Blue Heron by Chris Schlaf

Its feet still touching a rock on which it stands, a Great Blue Heron leans so far over the water of a pond that it looks like it might fall over. This yellow-billed gray bird appears positioned in front of blurred brown wetland grasses.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Romeo, MI

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with battery grip and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED lens; 1/4000 at f/4; ISO 450

  • Behind the Shot: I am extremely fortunate in that I can shoot right in my backyard. I settle in my spot before the sun rises so the birds won’t detect me and I wait. This morning the soft light of the sun was at my back when I noticed this heron focused on a particular spot in the water. It could only mean breakfast was waiting. When the bird plunged for the fish, I was ready with my Nikon D850 set at nine frames per second. This turned out to be my favorite shot of the burst.

27. Atlantic Puffin by Sunil Gopalan

Walking amid round flowers that appear yellow in the sunlight, an Atlantic Puffin carries two blossoms in its beak. The bird’s orange-and-black beak contrasts with its white belly and black shoulders and neck.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Shetland, United Kingdom

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/4; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: I photographed this Atlantic Puffin on a remote island in the Shetlands where seabirds outnumber humans. Scottish weather often brings rain, but we had clear skies in the evening just as the sun set behind the cliffs. I was able to lie down on the ground and point my lens directly at the sun, capturing a puffin returning with wildflowers to line its burrow. The flowers on the ground appear gold because of the angle of the sun, but really, they are the pink thrift that grows on cliff tops across much of Europe.

28. Wilson’s Snipe by Shirley Donald

Hidden behind a filmy curtain of green rushes is the bold brown-and-beige geometric pattern of the Wilson’s Snipe plumage. Only its eye and a small part of its head, with its distinctive stripe, are clearly visible. The bird is staring straight at the camera.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/4; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: Last June I explored a very small wetland close to my house. Rushes and reeds hid a few very small ponds, so I donned my waders and prayed that I wouldn’t fall. The clay bottom was as slippery as ice. Kneeling behind a clump of reeds and lowering my camera as much as possible, I photographed several bird species. I heard a Wilson’s Snipe winnowing but didn’t see one. Then my subject flew into sight and landed in the rushes a few yards away. It was half hidden by the green foliage, but I could see it was busy preening.

29. Hairy Woodpecker by David Leonard

A Hairy Woodpecker hangs on the underside of a decaying ponderosa pine branch, dust from its excavation efforts raining down on its black-and-white striped head and falling to the ground.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Mt. Lemmon, Pima County, AZ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: I was searching for Olive and Red-faced Warblers to photograph in the ponderosa pine woodlands when I found this female Hairy Woodpecker foraging upside down on a decayed ponderosa pine limb. Woodpeckers have held a special place in my heart since I was a kid. After graduate school, I studied Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in many peninsular Florida populations. Watching this Hairy Woodpecker brought back memories of my time in longleaf and slash pine forests. The goal of my photography is to convey the natural world’s beauty and inspire people to save the species that remain and the precious bits of habitat that support them. I hope this photograph achieves both.

30. Belted Kingfisher by Josiah Launstein

In a wetland blanketed with raindrops, a male Belted Kingfisher perches on the tip of a branch near the shoreline of a lake. The bird’s blue-and-white body stands out against the hazy greens and yellows of the spring foliage, white blossoms bursting above his head.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Beauvais Lake, Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/400 second at f/7.1; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: I was photographing warblers at a lake near my home on a cold, rainy spring day, when a male Belted Kingfisher flew past. I watched him hunt along the shoreline until he perched nearby, both of us pretty soaked. He dropped his left wing to shed the rain. As he watched the water for movement, I moved my tripod to find the composition I liked of this beautiful wetland scene. I lowered my shutter speed to give a better sense of the drenching rain and capture the softness and mood of the moment.

31. Giant Hummingbird by Jessica Suarez

A Giant Hummingbird briefly flies upside down, its wings outspread and its tail feathers fanned out. The bird looks to the side, its long bill pointed toward the plant’s greenery, while a bright red hibiscus flower dangles above it.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Urubamba, Cusco, Perú

  • Camera: Nikon D750 with a Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6G; 1/2500 second at f/8; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: When I lived in the Sacred Valley of Perú, I would watch a Giant Hummingbird feed on hibiscus flowers outside my bedroom window. I always hoped it was the same individual returning each day. I usually didn’t have my camera ready in time, but once I was lucky enough to capture six frames of it in 15 seconds before it darted off again. It just happened to fly upside down in my final frame, displaying its acrobatic agility.

32. Mountain Bluebird by Eric Peterson

A Mountain Bluebird tosses a cream-colored berry, which is captured suspended in the air just before entering its wide-open mouth. Thin brown branches covered in sharp white frost surround the bright teal bird, which is sitting in profile on its perch.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Warm Springs Road, near Goshen, UT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/9; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: On a cold and foggy February morning, my friend and I headed to a small agricultural town in central Utah. As we drove down a road lined with Russian olive trees, we heard Mountain Bluebirds and stopped to find them. Just then, the fog started to lift, leaving a bright crystal-like hoarfrost on the tree limbs. It was then that we saw the small flock feasting on the Russian olive berries. We had no idea how the photos would turn out, but the moment itself was magical.

33. Roseate Spoonbill by Scott Suriano

A pink Roseate Spoonbill flies across a sky, its fuchsia shoulders and red eye popping against a sky filled with lavender, pink, and gray clouds. With its long neck stretched forward, its wings reaching down, and its legs stretched out behind it, the magnificent wader appears to be suspended in the air.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Fellsmere, FL

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon EF 1.4x III Extender; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: During a spring vacation, I snuck away from my sleeping family and headed to a Roseate Spoonbill nesting colony. When I arrived, I saw the spoonbills flying back and forth, tending to their nests. As the Florida sun broke over the horizon, I was in awe of the large pink cotton candy-like clouds floating across the blue sky. I hoped to capture one of these prehistoric-looking creatures flying against this magnificent backdrop and was rewarded when one flapped its way across the spring pastel sky. I caught the downstroke of its wings, displaying the bird’s vibrant bright pink. I could not think of a more brilliant species of bird to complement this incredible scene.

34. Steller’s Sea-Eagle by Isabel Guerra Clark

Surrounded by piles of snow, a dark-brown-and-white Steller’s Sea-Eagle swoops down from the sky with open talons and outstretched wings that help the raptor to balance as it comes in for a landing on the ice pack.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Hokkaido, Japan

  • Camera: Nikon D5 DSLR with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/8.0; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: On a late winter morning we could see a lot of bird activity and mounds of snow, so we decided to take the boat out onto the sea. As we drew close to a large hunk of floating ice, this Steller’s Sea-Eagle landed and jumped up to get into a better position before it began fishing. What a treat for me to see this creature in its natural habitat, a beautiful specimen in great light, captured in a simple and effortless jump.

35. Great Egret by Tim Timmis

A Great Egret stands among branches flecked with dew. The bird’s delicate white plumes fan out around its silhouetted body and look golden in the sunlight, its head turned in profile.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Smith Oaks Rookery, High Island, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1DX Mark III with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/4000 second at f/10; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I love going to High Island’s rookery early during mating season to get photos of Great Egrets in full breeding plumage. They can put on a fabulous show with mating dances, too. In the morning, the sun comes up behind the rookery, which allows for some great opportunities to photograph the backlit birds. During a trip in March 2021, I found this backlit Great Egret with his head in silhouette visible through its breeding plumage.

36. Wood Duck by Steve Hinch

A Wood Duck hen opens her wings to the camera, their tips just beyond the frame. Her gray-and-brown speckled chest puffs out against the blue-gray background, and her fine head feathers give the appearance of a halo.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Sacajawea Park, Livingston, MT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: The Wood Ducks at a local park are wild but fairly tolerant of people. They nest nearby in cottonwoods along the river, so I set up my camera by the water and waited for them to move into range. I was focused on the drakes farther out when I noticed one of the hens preening. I knew she might flap her wings, and I didn’t want to miss it. Since I didn’t have time to change lenses, I framed her as best I could.

37. Common Loon by Sue Dougherty

Strings of tiny water droplets form lines across a Common Loon’s face from its beak to the back of its head. The closeup shows just a portion of the bird’s head, with a single red eye staring out.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Cariboo Region, British Columbia, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: On a photography trip in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, my group came across a rather tolerant Common Loon family. We watched them from our boat, captivated by the male and female diving for leeches to feed their chick. Within a couple of days, they were bringing back fingerling trout. I noticed absolutely perfect strings of water beads in hydrodynamic lines that would light for a few moments on their feathers shortly after they surfaced from a dive. They were so close I was able to get almost frame-filling images.

38. Great Gray Owl by Scott Suriano

A Great Gray Owl flies up from a frozen field to a bare branch. With its wings spread, the golden light from the emerging sunrise highlights its wingtips and tail feathers, adding a bit of warmth to this otherwise bluish scene.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Superior National Forest, Saint Louis County, MN

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens; 1/2000 at f/2.8; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: While braving the early morning sub-zero temperatures of Northern Minnesota in January, I was rewarded with this majestic Great Gray Owl rising from its roost on the frozen meadow, the light shimmering through its wingtips and tail feathers during its silent ascent. Once the owl perched, I continued to watch as it surveilled the landscape below. Even with numerous layers of warm clothing, I was only able to endure a short amount of time photographing in the extreme freezing conditions. I was amazed at how adept this incredible creature was at thriving in this harsh environment.

39. Red-headed Woodpecker by Leonard Kendall

A Red-headed Woodpecker looks up as it perches on a stump in the middle of a dense stand of leafless deciduous trees. The woodpecker, with its red head, white front, and black back, stands out from the brown-and-gray bark of the trees.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Cincinnati Nature Center, Milford, OH

  • Camera: Canon R6 and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Viltrox EF-EOS R Lens Mount Adapter; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: I have only seen a handful of Red-headed Woodpeckers, so any sighting is photograph worthy to me. This one flew by my head and landed on a waist-high tree stump. I snapped a few photos as the morning light shone a spotlight on the red, white, and black bird in the middle of a dense, leafless deciduous forest. When I saw the full-size image, I felt like I was in the woods again. My photo was much more than an image of a bird; it was a whole winter walk in a forest.

40. Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese by Linda Muth

Thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese take to the air in unison. While the species are indistinguishable from this distance, Ross’s are smaller and have shorter necks and stubbier bills. Circling low overhead, countless snow-white bodies with black wingtips look like confetti in the sky.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 560

  • Behind the Shot: My father and I made our first midfall visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on Thanksgiving day in 2019. As we finished an afternoon drive around the refuge, we passed a large pond popular with cranes—but it was filled with geese. We stood at the edge, mesmerized by thousands of birds bathing in the warmth of the midafternoon sun. As the bath time came to an end, the geese slowly gathered closer together and then blasted off. I grabbed my camera [and] shot up at the birds as they circled low over our heads.

41. Wood Storks by Cheryl Black

Four young Wood Storks with dark gray featherless heads and large pale orange bills face inward toward each other. Two larger birds are at the top of the frame and two smaller ones are near the bottom against a light blue sky.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, FL

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 with a Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 lens; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: The boardwalk at Wakodahatchee Wetlands winds through mangrove islands covered with dozens of Wood Stork, Anhinga, cormorant, egret, and heron nests in the spring. Because nests are so crowded together and the mangroves so thick, it can be difficult to get a good picture. I patiently waited as all four of these ancient-looking birds moved around the nest, trying to get comfortable in what seemed like an impossibly small space. The birds looked handsome and dignified together, much like an old-fashioned portrait of a very serious family.

42. Black-browed Albatross by Nadia Haq

A Black-browed Albatross pulls the fringe of its white feathers with its yellow-pink bill. Mud from nest building flecks the bill, which is darker pink at the tip. In contrast, the white feathers look pristine.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: West Point Island, Falkland Islands, United Kingdom

  • Camera: Nikon D810 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens; 1/500 second at f/4.8; ISO 360

  • Behind the Shot: After a turbulent sea crossing from Ushuaia, Argentina, to West Point Island, I was thrilled to land my feet firmly on the ground. We hiked up a hill to a Black-browed Albatross colony, and I was completely overwhelmed and exhilarated by the sheer number of birds engaged in different activities: sitting on nests, incubating eggs, flying, fighting with neighbors, courting, and preening. It was a challenge not to get distracted by the commotion. I was especially awestruck by the graceful and delicate way this albatross cleaned its feathers, bit by bit.

43. Rock Pigeon by Andrew Garn

A smoothly feathered rust-colored pigeon head peeps out from a collar of frilly white feathers that encircle its head and cover its body. The bird appears to be wearing a particularly elegant and chic overcoat of feathers.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: New York, NY

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5DS with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens; 1/250 second at f/13; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: This fancy pigeon— perhaps an escapee from a local pigeon loft—flew into a woman’s apartment in Greenwich Village. Panicked, she tossed a towel over its body and brought it to the Wild Bird Fund, where they named him Belle du Jour after the main character in the Joseph Kessel novel. When I first saw him, I immediately wanted to emphasize the glamorous boa of feathers around his neck. I find that because of their intelligence and comfort around people, pigeons enjoy posing for the camera.

44. Ring-billed Gull by Aranya Karighattam

A Ring-billed Gull struggles to pulls a hunk of green kelp from the beach, sending sand flying and making the protective nictitating membrane close over the bird’s yellow eye. With white plumage on its head and underside, light gray feathers on its back, and a yellow bill with a black ring at the tip and red at the gape, the gull pops against the blue ocean backdrop.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Winthrop, MA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM lens; 1/4000 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I enjoy watching gulls playfully interact with each other and their surroundings. I captured this scene on an August day at Winthrop Beach, when a gull walked close to where I sat. I lay down on the beach and held the camera low to the ground, snapping the photograph just as it tugged a piece of sand-caked kelp from the shore. Identifying gulls, especially juveniles, can be very challenging, but Ring-billed Gulls’ prominent black ring around the bill make them easy to discern.

45. Red-winged Blackbirds and a Yellow-headed Blackbird by Marti Phillips

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds takes off from a cornfield. The individuals in the foreground are in focus, the ones in the background blurred, their bright red wing patches speckling the image. In the middle of the mass is a solitary Yellow-headed Blackbird, the only one of his species in the group.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

  • Camera: Canon R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1L IS USM; 1/5000 second at f/7.1; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: One morning I photographed a solitary Yellow-headed Blackbird. I thought it was unusual to see one alone and wondered if he was lost or separated from his flock. I continued on my way, photographing larger flocks of other species. When I reviewed the day’s images, I discovered a speck of yellow in a sea of Red-winged Blackbirds. It must have been the same solitary bird making the best of his lonely situation, flying in the midst of a huge contingent of his red-winged cousins.

46. Song Sparrow by Lauren Pretorius

A Song Sparrow perches on a delicately-curved hanging branch, the backdrop similarly curved branches in soft focus. The soft glowing light from the midday sun illuminates the green vegetation behind the bird. The sparrow’s slightly fanned tail feathers and delicate feet give the impression of a tightrope walker.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Frederick, SD

  • Camera: Nikon D800 with a Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens; 1/640 second at f/2.8; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: I was out on a drive in the countryside on a warm summer day when I stopped near thick vegetation. I noticed a pair of Song Sparrows flying down to the ground and back up into these uniquely low-lying, curved branches, perhaps tending to one of their chicks in the underbrush. As the birds flitted around the branches, I snapped a single shot and captured this sparrow.

47. Barred Owls by Bogdan Alexandrescu

Three juvenile Barred Owls sit atop a tree snag behind one another, looking as if they’re an extension of the tree itself. The front owlet looks directly forward, the middle owlet faces to the right, and the third looks to the left in front of a blurred background of leaves.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Potomac, MD

  • Camera: Sony a7R IV with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens; 1/800 second at f/9; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: These three Barred Owl juveniles were seemingly inseparable after they fledged, often perching in very close proximity. On this particular evening, the adults must have been running behind schedule with dinner because all three owlets came racing in from different directions, nearly landing atop one another on a dead tree. In the few seconds before they dispersed, I had just enough time to balance my lens on my monopod and fire off a couple of shots at an aperture that captured all three in sharp focus.

48. Bald Eagles by Jerry amEnde

Two immature Bald Eagles, mostly brown in color with some white speckling, fight in mid-air over a fish. One holds up his talons as if pushing the attacker away, a small fish clutched in the other foot. The attacker, who flies slightly below with his wings spread wide, appears to be on the defensive. The water of the Susquehanna River makes up most of the background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Conowingo Dam, Susquehanna River, Darlington, MD

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/2000 second at f/7.1; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: In late autumn migrating Bald Eagles stop by the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River to feed on the numerous fish. Eagles are as much thieves as they are hunters—once one bird grabs a fish, several others often attempt to steal it. Here, one immature Bald Eagle tried to fend off an attacker from stealing his catch.

49. Sandhill Cranes by Megan Bonham

Five Sandhill Cranes make the formation of a pyramid in a sky lined with wispy clouds. They appear as silhouettes in the light blues and yellows of sunset. The birds’ necks are stretched out and their legs dangle below.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T6i with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: When Sandhill Cranes prepare to land, their outstretched wings and necks appear elegant as they glide through the air while their awkward, dangling legs add comedic value. As birds flew in for the evening in small groups, I chose a place along their route where the sunset colors were especially brilliant and waited for an interesting formation to fly through. These five cranes beautifully show off their wing tips and long legs. I quietly giggled as I pushed down the shutter button.

50. Adélie Penguins by Benjamin Salesse

A thin veil of snow falls and hundreds of Adélie Penguins atop their nests blanket dark grey volcanic shards on the ground. Behind them, snow covers hills that disappear into a thick cloud. One penguin stands in the crowd, its head thrown straight up and back toward the sky and its white belly stark and exposed.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Paulet Island, Antarctica

  • Camera: Nikon D750 with a Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/400 second at f/5.6; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Paulet, a small island along the Antarctic Peninsula, is home to 100,000 Adélie Penguin pairs. In spring they come back to the hilly slopes and volcanic rocks to meet their mates and build pebble nests. While one protects the eggs from skuas, the other goes to search for krill. Each partner alternates duties every few days, but danger always looms. If one falls prey to a leopard seal, the other abandons the eggs to avoid starvation. This Adélie calling for its mate shows the vulnerability and uncertainty that accompanies the wait for a partner’s return, revealing the intimate bond and co-dependence necessary for survival. While observing penguins is an endless source of delight, from their comical walk to their belly ice gliding, I hope this image offers a glimpse into a harsher side of their reality.

51. Ring-necked Pheasants by Maria Khvan

Two pheasant roosters with bright red facemasks and iridescent green necks ringed in white fight in midair over a grassland, their cream-colored wings outstretched. One rooster faces the camera and the other, slightly below, appears in profile, its legs raised to strike. A few feathers float in the air.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, PA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a7R III and Sony FE 24-240mm f/ 3.5-6.3 OSS lens; 1/2000 second at f/9; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: On a beautiful morning over the grasslands of Pennsylvania, two pheasant roosters in splendid mating colors battled over breeding territory. They leapt and struck each other with their bills, claws, and spurs, and plucked each other’s feathers. They aimed for each other’s eyes and wattles, eventually disappearing as their contest moved them out of sight behind tall grass. Meanwhile, three hens foraged peacefully by the roadside waiting for their future mates.

52. Wild Turkey by Zachary Gleiter

A turkey forages in short grass, its bill poised just above the ground. The bird’s overlapping green, yellow, blue, and red feathers look like a shingled roof, and the fine hairs on its blue head stick out, focused sharply against the background.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Fort Indiantown Gap, Lebanon County, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1DX with a Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: Turkeys live on thousands of acres of woodlands and fields that surround the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center, where you can see practically every species of animal native to the state. My dad and I saw this turkey and a few others foraging in a grassy area near the road. We pulled over and used our car as a blind to photograph them. The turkeys were above us on a small hill, which gave the photo a unique angle, and they came within 35 feet of our car, giving me some great photo opportunities.

53. Great Horned Owl by Carl Walsh

The big yellow eyes of the Great Horned Owl stare intently at a sunlit squirrel walking upside down on a nearby tree limb. The owl stands sideways, and its brown-and-tan feathers blend with the Spanish moss–covered bark of an oak tree.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Safety Harbor, FL

  • Camera: Sony a7 III with a Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens and Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/250 second at f/9.0; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: Having photographed this Great Horned Owl nest the year prior, I knew that squirrels periodically approached the adults. It happened again almost immediately when I returned the following year. The squirrels seemed to toy with the owl, playing a game of “raptor roulette,” considering the raptor feeds on the rodent. But the squirrels appeared to know their boundaries, keeping their distance and retreating quickly if they elicited a reaction. As a photojournalist, I’m always looking to create a visual narrative, and I welcomed the juxtaposition between the squirrel and owl captured in the frame.

54. Red-winged Blackbird by Michael Schulte

A male Red-winged Blackbird sits atop an aloe bloom in a field of yellow blossoms, his tail fanned, wings open and arching down, and his red shoulder pads flared. The bird’s black and red are striking against a sea of yellow color. His beak is open as he sings.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Imperial Valley, CA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD GClens; 1/640 second at f/9; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: During the first month of the pandemic, I ventured into California’s expansive Imperial Valley in my campervan to social distance with the birds. I drove past rich fields of crops including this vibrant field of blooming aloe. Dozens of male Red-winged Blackbirds jockeyed for display positions in a dizzying bounce of red on black on yellow. This particular male was bolder than the others and fought to maintain his high perch. His ability to fight off competing males to secure insect-rich territory likely won him multiple mates.

55. Great Blue Herons by Rhys Logan

In the fading light, seven Great Blue Herons stalking their prey in shallow water form dark silhouettes. The shape of each of the long-legged waders is slightly different under a pink-and-purple sunset sky filled with cotton candy-like clouds.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Bellingham Bay, Bellingham, WA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens; 1/800 second at f/5.0; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I had only recently begun searching for birds to photograph in the spring, when it seemed like practically everything had shut down, and I spied 10 Great Blue Herons in a bay near my house. Standing at a distance so as not to spook them, I photographed the peaceful scene that unfolded as the sun set beyond Lummi Island, and the birds patiently stalked and waded, and deftly struck gunnels, sculpins, crustaceans with their spear-like bills. As the tide came in, their cadet blue bodies swayed and bent against a pink-and-purple sky.

56. Violet-green Swallow by Steve Hinch

A white-faced swallow perches on a white-branched tree, its back to the camera. The vibrant green feathers on the top of its head and shoulders look like a cape, the color changing to a royal blue and purple bottom and gray wing and tail feathers.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone, MT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: Searching for birds during spring migration, I came across a massive mixed flock of Tree, Northern Rough-winged, Cliff, and Violet-green Swallows. I watched as groups flew out over the lake and sagebrush catching insects. Eventually, they’d land and rest. I set up near a dead tree on the shore and was fortunate to photograph this Violet-green Swallow before it resumed hunting for insects.

57. Magnolia Warbler by Mark Paul

A Magnolia Warbler sits on a thin spruce branch in a mixed forest of coniferous and deciduous trees. The bird’s yellow body is streaked with blue-gray, black, and white markings, and the black coloring around its neck makes it look as though it’s wearing a necklace.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Starksboro, VT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1000 second at f/8; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: I was searching for migrating warblers at a nearby sugar maple farm. The owners had done a good job maintaining habitat, keeping the understory and midstory of deciduous and coniferous trees healthy. The open environment provided just the right lighting and enough places for me to hide. All I had to do was wait patiently. Eventually a Magnolia Warbler flew into a small conifer next to me and started foraging on a branch, creating separation between the bird and the background and allowing for some nice bokeh.

58. Great Blue Heron by Vicki Jauron

A Great Blue Heron, with a head that appears light and dark blue, stands in a pond, a white stream of water extending from the tip of its bright orange bill to the surface and sunlight illuminating droplets from the splash.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Exton, PA

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with an AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/2.8; ISO 125

  • Behind the Shot: During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, I started going to a local pond. Most of those mornings I spent in a Great Blue Heron’s company as he fished for breakfast, laying in the mud on the shore very close to him. Spending so many mornings together gave me an opportunity to capture him in many different lights and weather conditions, poses and compositions, including this dramatic backlighting as he lifted his bill up from the water, illuminating the splash.

59. Great Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills by Lorraine Minns

In a wetland framed by dark green vegetation, a red Roseate Spoonbill flies against wispy white clouds. White Great Egrets sit in trees perfectly reflected in the still water below, their white shapes like smudges in an otherwise blue-and-green landscape.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: High Island, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/8; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: I was walking along the trail at Smith Oak Rookery on High Island, where Great Egrets and Roseate Spoonbills nest and raise their young in the spring and early summer. I saw an opening in the vegetation and had to stop and take a photo. It was as if I were viewing the beauty of nature through this amazing window. Of all the photographs I took on that trip, this was my favorite.

60. Wood Ducks by Kevin Sim

Three identical-looking ducklings swim directly toward the camera, perfectly aligned from front to back, their orange-tipped blue beaks facing forward. The first duckling is the only one in focus, its reflection like a mirror in the dark green water in front of it. Small ripples make way on both of its sides.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens; 1/800 second at f/8; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: I ventured into Assiniboine Park early to capture birds in the morning light. As I sat by the edge of a pond, I saw a dozen Wood Duck ducklings on top of a concrete island. One by one, each bird bravely jumped in and started swimming around. They came directly toward me in perfect alignment. I managed only two shots before they got too close for my lens to focus, and I dearly hoped that the ducklings would be sharp. When I popped the memory card into the computer, I was overjoyed.

61. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Ashrith Kandula

An adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, its eyes closed, spreads its wings after a rainstorm. Perched on a vibrant green tree and facing the viewer, the gray bird appears to be in a meditating pose, its bill tilted down and the long white plume at the back of its head pointed slightly up.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Ocean City, NJ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x II Teleconverter; 1/400 second at f/7.1; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: My family and I drove to a large heron rookery to see ibis and night-herons nesting. After an hour, heavy rain began to pour down. We considered going back home but decided to wait it out. We weren’t the only ones who got wet. When the rain passed, this Yellow-crowned Night-Heron spread its wings to dry off, appearing to meditate as the sun shone down.

62. Double-crested Cormorants by Blake Bryant

Six Double-crested Cormorants perch on exposed logs over the water. Encapsulated in a light fog, two of the silhouetted birds face each other and stretch their wings in the golden light.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle, WA

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a7R III with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/2000 second at f/6.3; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: Early mornings at this former landfill site often arrive with Seattle’s famous drizzle and overcast skies. After months of visits (and many frozen fingers), the perfect conditions finally aligned: a visible sunrise and morning fog, a water level that exposed these perches but not the underlying gravel bar, and of course the Double-crested Cormorants drying their waterlogged wings after diving for breakfast. I’m grateful to be reminded of the impact that restoration can have on native species in urban areas.

63. Carib Grackle by Lawrence Worcester

A jet-black Carib Grackle sits atop a cactus fruit, facing the camera with bright yellow eyes and a wide-open bill revealing a mouthful of sticky pink flesh. The grackle’s wings are close to its sides, a few feathers ruffed up at its shoulders, its feet grasping the fuchsia fruit that sits along a green cactus stalk, sharp needles protruding from all sides.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Simplicity Bay, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/800 second at f/8; ISO 150

  • Behind the Shot: During the short cactus fruiting season, competition for the fruit can lead to territorial disputes and even injury. The fruit sits precariously close to the rows of spiny sharp needles, making it tricky for birds to get the foothold needed to eat the sweet flesh. That only increases the tension and fighting that surrounds a fruiting patch. This lucky Carib Grackle seemed to fully enjoy having this treat all to itself—at least for a little while.

64. Double-crested Cormorant by Ronan Nicholson

Sitting in a pond in a profile view, a cormorant points its wings in front of its body, and the wingtips spray wavy strings of water droplets forward in mid-air. The still water of the pond reflects the background of greenery, a contrast to the bird’s orange gape and wing edges.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, UT

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM; 1/400 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: On a summer road trip, my family stopped in Salt Lake City, where we birded at a local park. I discovered a pond with ducks, geese, gulls, swallows, and even a pair of Spotted Sandpipers. Then the rain started. When it finally let up, I went back to the pond and got down in the wet grass to photograph gulls at eye level. A cormorant that had taken advantage of the rain to hunt passed nearby. I pointed my lens as it exercised its wings to shake off the water.

65. Black Skimmers by Douglas DeFelice

Small waves roll as three Black Skimmers fly directly in line with one another and the lens, so their bodies seem to blend almost as one. Five black wings are visible as if extending from a single body, and two white heads and orange beaks graze the water.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: St. Petersburg, FL

  • Camera: Nikon D5 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/4; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Adult Black Skimmers frequently leave the colony to hunt for food along the shore of the St. Petersburg coast, so I positioned myself in a place where I could easily see them. Three aligned themselves one behind the other in front of my lens, creating the illusion of a single bird in motion. I took the shot just as two dipped their orange beaks into the water.

66. Reddish Egret by Tim Timmis

A white-morph Reddish Egret stands in shallow water, its back to the camera. The bird’s wings are stretched out to the sides, and the edges of its white feathers are tinged with pink from the rising sun.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1250 second at f/8; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: While lying down on a sandbar taking shorebird photos, this white morph Reddish Egret flew in and landed close to me. He was very fun to watch as he chased a fish in front of me. Egrets will flap their wings and sometimes jump up into the air while fishing. I caught this photo as he came in for a landing with his wings outstretched, showing off his full beautiful wingspan.

67. Surf Scoters by Eric Schertler

Three Surf Scoters fly in a straight line across glassy blue water. The wing position of each of the dark birds is slightly different as they fly mere inches from the water’s surface in the center of the frame.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: San Juan Islands, WA

  • Camera: Nikon D7100 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/8000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: I was whale watching off the San Juan Islands and looking out for the only Horned Puffin known to live in the Salish Sea. These three Surf Scoters took off from the water and flew in a row past our boat. Since the boat rocked constantly, it took several tries to capture the birds in the center of the frame. Despite all this, I lucked out. These Surf Scoters were among several lifers for me during my time in Washington.

68. Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Lauren Pretorius

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a branch and looks to the right. The tan branch limb, which divides the image in half, has green needles speckled with moisture. The bird’s long beak is parallel to the perch, the bird and only part of the branch in focus.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Aberdeen, SD

  • Camera: Nikon D800 with a Nikon 600mm F/4G ED VR lens; 1/640 second at f/4; ISO 450

  • Behind the Shot: I captured this image last September after a soft rain the night before led to a misty morning. The sun cast an ethereal golden glow. I noticed dainty dew drops twinkling in the beautiful light, so I grabbed my camera gear in anticipation of a hummingbird visit to our feeders. I was hopeful that one would land in the dew-drop tree. My patience paid off as the tiny feathered jewel arrived and landed for the briefest of moments. I was only able to get a couple of shots before he flew off.

69. Red-bellied Woodpecker by Tom Warren

A Red-bellied Woodpecker appears to be doing a pull-up, its head just above a branch, its red cap in sharp contrast to falling snow. The bird’s distinctive light-pink-and-red belly markings are on full display.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Dobbs Ferry, NY

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D IF-ED lens; 1/500 second at f/2.8; ISO 220

  • Behind the Shot: I took this shot just a few feet from my backdoor. When I heard there was snow in the forecast, I set up a portable bird blind near our feeder well in advance of the storm so the birds would become accustomed to its presence. As hoped, our feeder was quite active during the snowfall, and I so enjoyed quietly photographing the great variety of birds that stopped by for some seed. This Red-bellied Woodpecker stole the show when it hung on to a nearby branch. It looked like it was trying to do a pull-up at the gym, and its position allowed for a great look at its often-hidden blush red underside.

70. Lesser Yellowlegs by Tim Timmis

Two Lesser Yellowlegs run side-by-side on a beach. Their bodies nearly appear as one bird with two sets of long, brightly colored legs and an open black bill. The light foreground and background help to highlight the birds’ brown coloring and distinctive yellow legs.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/2000 second at f/7.1; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: I found these two Lesser Yellowlegs running around together while I took shorebird photos at Bolivar Flats along the Texas Gulf Coast. It was challenging to keep up with them while maintaining a perspective close to the ground. I captured this photo as they ran in unison, looking almost like one bird with four distinctive legs propelling it forward.

71. Ring-billed Gulls by Siu Lau

A mixed flock of gulls pack tightly together in the shallows as a Ring-billed Gull hovers overhead, yellow legs lowered and black-tipped wings fully extended, looking with its bright yellow eye for a place to land.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Spruce Run Recreation Area, Clinton, NJ

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/6000 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: On a cold morning I saw hundreds of gulls resting on the water’s edge. One gull, looking for a spot to land, tried to squeeze in the middle of the flock even though there was no room. I lined up the gulls with some trees in the background, laid down on the beach with the sun behind my back, and took a few photographs.

72. Snowy Owl by Ryan Leimbach

A Snowy Owl, its wings fully extended and filling the frame, glides along a sandy beach. The bird’s mottled underbelly contrasts the pure white feathers on its head and wings, and its yellow cat-like eye seems locked on its target ahead.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, NY

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/4.0; ISO 125

  • Behind the Shot: Having spent my college summers working at Jones Beach, I knew the park offered prime bird habitat and that people regularly spotted Snowy Owls there in the winter. On a cold December day, I made my way onto the beach and saw a crowd of people looking for owls. As the sun began to set, a Snowy Owl rose up out of the dunes and glided toward me. A flock of Snow Buntings caught the owl’s attention, and the raptor swooped mere inches over the sand, chasing the prey. I captured an amazing moment and was reminded that the best images come from respecting our subjects.

73. Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese by Marti Phillips

Thousands of Snow Geese fill a purple-and-blue sky. The white of their wings reflects the fading light, and their bodies are silhouetted in the upper third of the image. Below them, Sandhill Cranes stand like sentinels in the brown grasses of a wetland, still water around them.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque Del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM lens; 1/320 second at f/8; ISO 10000

  • Behind the Shot: I took this image shortly after arriving at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for the very first time. Just as the sun set, I was stunned to hear the explosive sound of thousands of Snow Geese taking off from the water in unison. The sunlight on their wings, with the backdrop of the purple-and-blue sky, seemed ethereal. I felt transported to a time when so much of this rich habitat had not yet been destroyed.

74. Pine Siskin by Christopher Baker

Sitting in a birdbath, a brown-and-yellow Pine Siskin appears to radiate steam. Its back faces the camera while its head is turned to the right. The steam wafts off the water illuminated by sunlight.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Madison, AL

  • Camera: Nikon Z6 II with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens and Nikon Mount FTZ Adapter; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: Overnight temperatures dropped below freezing and turned the water in my birdbath into an ice block. I added warm water for the songbirds that come to the backyard feeder, and Pine Siskins immediately flocked in. The bath sits a dozen feet from the back door, so I slowly cracked it wide enough to get the lens through without disturbing the visitors. By the time I finally got set up, only one bird remained soaking. This shot was easily my favorite of the series—it epitomized the serenity of the scene.

75. Snow Buntings by Kazuto Shibata

More than 170 Snow Buntings, white and flecked with brown, are perched on a single bare tree. It makes the tree seem as if it has white leaves against the image's blurry dark background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Oroville, WA

  • Camera: Nikon Z6 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: When I visited Okanogan Highlands to watch birds, I saw a large flock of Snow Buntings. A few hundred perched on a power line, a few hundred sat on the ground, and a few hundred perched on a tree. Snow started lightly falling, making for a mesmerizing scene. I stopped the engine and pressed the shutter from the window to capture the wonderful view.

76. Great Horned Owl by Mark Schocken

Shrouded in Spanish moss, this great Horned Owl looks directly at the camera in the middle of the frame. As he sits on a gnarled tree branch, his newly preened brown-and-white feathers stick out and almost blend with the moss. His foot is raised, and it seems as if he’s smiling.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Safety Harbor, FL

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 200–600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/400 sec at f/6.3; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: I arrived at a local park early one morning to look for the male Great Horned Owl I knew would be there. When I found him in his nest tree, a massive southern oak, he was asleep—presumably after a long night hunting prey for his new family. He slept for more than an hour, his eyes staying closed even as he began to preen. When they eventually snapped open, I hit the shutter button to capture this handsome bird, his feathers fluffed and framed by Spanish moss. He almost seemed to be smiling at me.

77. Black-crowned Night-Heron by Gary Robinette

A Black-crowned Night-Heron cast in shadow perches on a branch. The sun only illuminates its neck and head. Its red eye is obvious in the light, and its yellow feet hold the limb. Flecks of green leaves stand out from the dark shadowed background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Baker Park, Frederick, MD

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I went up to Baker Park to see a Black-crowned Night-Heron rookery. As I was leaving, I noticed this adult in the shadows, hunting near the creek that feeds the small lake where they roost—just the natural setting I was looking for. I was able to get a fairly low angle, and even though the mixed lighting was a challenge, I managed to get this shot with a fairly low shutter speed.

78. Rough-legged Hawk by Gordon Hatusupy

Tiny droplets of water lit by golden light surround a Rough-legged Hawk hovering above marsh water during sunset. The hawk looks directly at the camera, its wings slightly folded overhead, and in its talons it holds a vole and some grasses it grabbed when snatching its prey.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Brunswick Point, Delta, British Columbia, Canada

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: I was out photographing Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls in Delta, British Columbia, an important migration stopover on the Pacific Flyway. The main trail is on a dyke, but there are some hunters’ trails in the marsh that you can walk if you’re mindful of the tide. The water was freezing and my feet were already numb, even with thick boots on. I could see the hawk hover in the air and dive without any luck. Suddenly, I heard a splash on the trail ahead of me. The tide was coming in and there was quite a bit of water already. I quickly lowered my camera to ground level and tilted up my screen. The hawk was still splashing when I saw it had caught a vole.

79. Western Gull by Gail Jackson

A Western Gull stands on a sandbar on the horizon appearing to walk out to sea as dark blue waves push foamy water onto the beach. The bird’s brown-and-white feathers and profile stand out against the cloudless blue sky.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Manchester State Beach, Manchester, CA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 80D with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM; 1/2500 second at f/8; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: At high tide on a winter day, the surf rippled over the sandbar. The current pulled out the driftwood and pushed the kelp into the creek. Most of the smaller shorebirds had flown down the beach to find shelter, but I was drawn to this first-winter gull that seemed to enjoy having the beach mostly to itself. I knelt down to the damp sand to get the right angle, hoping I would get the surf in the frame and not in my camera.

80. Anhinga by Eric Schertler

The sun outlines an Anhinga’s neck and head, the only parts of the bird’s body featured in this image. The bird, taken in profile view, is flaring the gular sac beneath its beak. The red translucent skin is brighter than the rest of the image, and the veins are visible in the skin. The out-of-focus brown-and-green marshland in the background further accentuates the bird’s yellow bill and head.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Caw Caw Interpretive Center County Park, Ravenel, SC

  • Camera: Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: Caw Caw Interpretive Center County Park hosts a plethora of birds that thrive in habitats from hardwood forest to cypress swamp. Habitat diversity and ample protection means it’s a biodiversity hotspot—a prime example of how small areas can provide conditions necessary for a range of species. This backlit Anhinga began flaring its gular sac and moving its head and neck in different directions while perched on a dead tree. The sun shone through its translucent skin as I snapped the photo.

81. Purple Gallinule by Corey Raffel

A Purple Gallinule looks as if it’s stepping across the water’s surface with its wings stretched out behind it. Its iridescent purple head and neck are parallel to the water, reaching forward as if crossing a finish line. The foot of one long yellow leg is in the water, the other poised to take the next step. The bird’s whole body is reflected in wavy lines of the rippling water.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lake Tohopekaliga, Kissimmee, FL

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/4000 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: On an airboat photography tour of Lake Tohopekaliga, we noticed many Purple Gallinules in the reeds along the water’s edge. The gallinules were constantly squabbling, and occasionally one took off across the open water to get away. They did not fly above the water but flapped their wings and used their famously large feet to support their weight as they “ran” across the water’s surface. By setting my camera to a fast shutter speed, I captured one such bird running and flying past our boat. Each step was marked by a splash, so we could see that the steps were more than two times the length of the bird.

82. American Avocets by Tim Timmis

A white-and-black American Avocet wades in the water with many other avocets. This bird, which captures aquatic invertebrates by sweeping its bill side to side, has water suspended in its open bill, making the thin feature seem much thicker than it actually is.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, TX

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/2000 second at f/11; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: I found a flock of American Avocets feeding in the mudflats and laid down to keep from spooking them. They eventually turned in my direction as more avocets flew in and began a feeding frenzy. I realized when I felt water getting into my chest waders that the tide was coming in. With hundreds of avocets coming right at me, I decided to stay put and get wet even though the air temperature dropped to 53 degrees Fahrenheit with 15- to 20-mile-per-hour winds. The water even lapped the bottom of my camera (which cost me $1,200 to repair). I found myself completely encircled by the birds, some getting within 10 feet of me. I had to stop taking photos just to take in the scene around me.

83. Great Blue Heron by Howard Arndt

A male Great Blue Heron stands on the edge of a large nest perched on a dead pine trunk. He is stretching his body, his neck slightly arched behind him and his beak extending straight up to the blue sky. He faces the bare trunk, and his gray neck feathers extend toward the tree.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Heron Pond Wetlands Complex, Milford, NH

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1600 second at f/8; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: I observed this male Great Blue Heron working to attract a mate over several days. Looking toward the sky, he would stretch his neck and body upward as far as possible and hold that position for a minute or so. He repeated this classic mating pose many times. A week later he found his match, foraged for sticks from the wetlands, and presented them to her to weave into their nest.

84. Great Horned Owls by Kelley Luikey

On a big oak branch covered in a carpet of bright green ferns, two fluffy gray Great Horned Owlets cuddle together in their nest. Moss hangs from the canopy, framing the birds as they look straight ahead, one’s head slightly above the other’s, their yellow eyes peering directly into the camera lens.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Beaufort, SC

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/640 second at f/5; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: This Great Horned Owl nest, lined with resurrection ferns that brown and shrivel when conditions are dry and become a verdant green when it rains, sat in the nook of a live oak tree. After a day of heavy spring rain, I went to photograph the owlets, hoping to get an image of them tucked into the lush ferns. They did anything and everything that didn’t involve looking at me. At last, they both turned around, snuggled close together, and looked at the camera. I took just three shots before they went back to wiggling.

85. American Goldfinch by Jules Jacobs

In a sea of sunflowers, a brilliant yellow American Goldfinch, in the center of the frame, perches atop a sunflower of exactly the same hue, the bird’s distinctive black cap and wings preventing it from being entirely camouflaged.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, Poolesville, MD

  • Camera: Nikon D810 with an AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/4; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: I was admiring the sunflowers in this giant garden when one started to move: A lone American Goldfinch bounced from flower to flower. The bird hopped onto the central flower and perched behind the petals, its yellow feathers blending in seamlessly with the blooms. These fields feed countless migrating birds. With a soft footprint, we can enjoy the beauty of places like this while preserving them for the birds that need them.

86. Snow Geese by Adit Nehra

Lifting off from a harvested cornfield, hundreds of Snow Geese fly toward the sky, their black-tipped wings seeming to touch each other. Their white bodies stand out against a dark forest background.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Sussex, DE

  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T6i with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM lens; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: At the end of a weeklong winter exploration of the Delmarva Peninsula, two friends and I encountered a blizzard: 9,000 Snow Geese swirling down into the cornfields at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. We pulled over and crept across the fields, sifting through the sea of geese for a vagrant Pink-footed Goose recently spotted in the area. Our search soon switched to a new target when my friend told us he’d lost his keys. The three of us began scouring that 75-acre field of corn stubble. An hour into the hunt, groups of geese, beautifully illuminated by the late afternoon light, began to lift off. Momentarily distracted from our car-key crisis, I took a few shots, then quickly returned to the mission. Two hours later we found the keys, by walking every inch of the field while holding hands and looking down.

87. Northern Mockingbird by Ashrith Kandula

Perched on a branch with green leaves, a light gray Northern Mockingbird regurgitates two red berries; one tiny red orb seemingly floats in its open bill and another, just starting to fall, is a couple of inches from its head.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Wallingford, PA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x II Teleconverter; 1/800 second at f/8; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I was watching a Northern Mockingbird eat red berries off a bush when I noticed something peculiar: Sometimes it spit the berries out. I used a high frame rate and took as many images as I could. When I looked at my photographs, I was surprised to find that I’d captured two airborne berries. I later found out that some birds often regurgitate large, indigestible berries to free up space in their digestive system.

88. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by Alex Becker

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher peeks over the top of its nest of lichen interwoven with spiderwebs, which is placed at the fork of two roughly barked branches. The bird delicately holds a single piece of green lichen in its beak.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Charles Rogers Refuge, Princeton, NJ

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with an AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1800

  • Behind the Shot: During the COVID-19 lockdown I would walk to a local preserve that always offered great birding opportunities but little in the way of photos. Gnatcatchers, being their tiny, flitty selves, were the epitome of this preserve: ever-present in the spring but rarely in photographic range. On one visit, I noticed two coming back-and-forth to the same tree and a small pile of moss wrapped up in spider webs. A nest! I was thrilled to capture this image of the bird delicately crafting its creation.

89. Southern Giant Petrel by Marissa Goerke

A white Southern Giant-Petrel opens its wings, its body framed against a dark ravine. Its webbed feet walk on the rocky ground, and its full body profile is highlighted by the sun’s rays.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Humble Island, Antarctica

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens; 1/1000 sec at f/14; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Over four Antarctic summers I assisted a seabird research team studying Southern Giant-Petrels. On this particular day, the low clouds threatened rain, snow, or both— not great photo conditions, as is often the case on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. But I always bring my camera just in case. The warm light of a late summer sunset peeked through the clouds just as a petrel climbed out of a ravine and into the sparse rays. All the unreliable elements of the region came together for the perfect shot, framing the master of this harsh climate.

90. Downy Woodpecker by Adrienne Elliot

With its black-and-white-striped back facing the camera, a Downy Woodpecker perches on a branch that cuts across the frame horizontally. The bird’s body aligns perfectly with the branch. A red stripe across the back of its head stands out against a blurred beige background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Novi, MI

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a7R II with a Sony FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G OSS lens; 1/320 second at f/7.1; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: For decades I have enjoyed watching a wide variety of birds in my yard. I have always found it challenging, though, to photograph them. This changed during the pandemic lockdown when I attached camouflage fabric to my sliding glass door and cut a hole for my lens. I moved some of my feeders and added perches for the birds to land on. This shot shows a woodpecker as it scoots along one of those branches. I was very excited to get the shot since Downy Woodpeckers move so quickly.

91. California Quail by Carol Dula

A male California Quail pokes his head and neck out from the bush he’s using for cover. The portrait showcases the bird’s most distinctive features: a prominent head plume that sticks up like a forward-curved topknot and the stark white stripes on its otherwise dark face.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Santa Cruz, CA

  • Camera: Canon EOS 60D Camera with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 at f/5.6; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: I spotted this California Quail out of the corner of my eye and approached quietly, trying not to scare it off. Quails are notorious for scurrying away quickly, making them a challenge to photograph. A moment later he was on the move, his little feet furiously scooting across the ground. I waited until he ran beneath an evergreen bush for cover. A few minutes later, I saw his head pop out from the top of the bush. Seizing my chance, I focused on his striking face coloring, distinctive head plume, and dappled neck feathers and captured this image.

92. Kori Bustard by Aaron Baggenstos

Standing erect in a field of tall brown grass, a male Kori Bustard sticks out the large white feathers under his tail. The striped white-and-black feathers around his neck make it look like he’s wearing a feather boa below his black head.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Samburu, Kenya

  • Camera: Nikon Z7 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: Kori Bustards have impressive and elaborate courtship displays, as I saw while leading a photographic safari to Kenya in October. The male holds his head back with cheeks bulging, his crest held erect and bill open. He inflates his gular pouch, forming a white throat “balloon.” He enhances his performance with an exaggerated bouncing and emits a low-pitched booming noise when his neck is at maximum inflation, snapping his bill open and shut. Seeing this display was an extraordinary experience, one that I will remember for a lifetime.

93. American Coot by Ronan Nicholson

An American Coot stands on a bank of water, its black head and white beak lowered as if it’s ready to dive in headfirst. One green leg looks ready to push off, the other slightly behind it. Roots stick out of the dirt.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Lake Julian Park, Asheville, NC

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: At first, these birds were all “just coots,” but as I spent more time with them over the winter, I observed their varied behaviors. One day I photographed the coots turning upside down in the water to grab plants at the bottom of the lake, splashing their feet and sending water droplets flying. I watched one of my subjects dive in, swim to the bank, jump out, and walk toward me. Just as the coot headed back toward the lake, I took this shot, delighted to have gotten his head in focus.

94. Mallards by Marti Phillips

Hundreds of Mallards packed tightly together begin to takeoff from a corn field, the males’ emerald green heads and blue wing patches shining in the light. The birds are in different stages of flight, their wings outstretched behind them or waving in front. They take up the frame, but the spacing between them is greater the higher they are from the ground.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, NM

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM; 1/5000 second at f/7.1; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I expected to see large numbers of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. However, I never expected to see quite so many Mallards—especially ones so tightly packed, constantly taking off and landing in plowed-over corn in one large coordinated flock. I have been around Mallards all my life, but I have never seen them in such a stunning display of unity.

95. Barn Owl by Kai Kaplinksky

A preening Barn Owl nearly glows against a dark background. Sitting sideways, it tucks its russet-crowned head into its white chest flecked with black spots, its brown striated wing curling into its body as it grooms itself.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA

  • Camera: Sony A7 and Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/200 second at f/6; ISO 2800

  • Behind the Shot: During the pandemic, I went out to photograph different owl species almost every day. I spent hours researching and looking for a Barn Owl, one of my favorite owls because of their unique coloration and mysterious personalities. My work finally paid off when I saw one perched on a palm tree branch. Over several hours, I observed the owl stretch and change position, eventually getting this image as it preened. This experience encouraged me to do even more owl photography.

96. Sandhill Crane by William Farnsworth

The morning sun rises behind a portrait of a Sandhill Crane in profile. The hazy, perfectly-circular sun casts the bird and its nostrils in a sharp golden outline and silhouettes the bird’s S-shaped neck and head against a dark sky background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford, MI

  • Camera: Nikon D7500 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens and a UV Filter; 1/8000 second at f/10; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: This crane started its mornings by preening along the shores of a lake, basking in the radiant glow of the rising sun. Using a narrow aperture created a sharp, crisp silhouette of the bird. But without a neutral density filter or protective eyewear on hand, it was not safe for me to view the sun directly through the camera’s optical viewfinder. My solution was the “live view” function, which allowed me to see the bird and the sun through the LCD screen on the back of my camera.

97. House Finches by Stevan Hubbard

Four juvenile House Finches perch in a line from front to back on a wooden railing of a footbridge. Only the nearest finch, looking skyward, is in sharp focus. Three more distant finches fade into a featureless background, save for a color transition in the darkening sky.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison, CT

  • Camera: Nikon Z6 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR; 1/400 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: In July 2019 I visited Hammonasset Beach State Park, a frequent birding destination of mine. With less than an hour left before sunset, I headed out on a trail and noticed a group of juvenile House Finches perched on the wooden railings of a bridge. Because daylight was fading, I used a relatively low shutter speed and a wide-open aperture to take a series of photographs of individuals as well as groups of finches, like this one.

98. Belted Kingfisher by Harry Collins

A male Belted Kingfisher points its beak straight upward, centered in the frame. A silver fish is impaled on it. Gray feathers ring the bird’s lower neck while white feathers cover the rest of its neck and chest. Water droplets dot its body.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Vero Beach, FL

  • Camera: Nikon Z7 II with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/3200 second at f/7.1; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: Kingfishers are often skittish birds. To get this photo, I set up inside of a blind for a couple days on a small pond in a Florida park. This Belted Kingfisher came and went from a perch where it liked to fish. But on this morning, a Little Blue Heron hung around the perch, forcing the bird to fish elsewhere. Once the heron left, the kingfisher came back having already speared its prey.

99. Resplendent Quetzal by Aaron Baggenstos

A male Resplendent Quetzal approaches a tree trunk with a blackberry in his beak. He has a shiny green collar around his neck and vibrant red feathers on his chest. In the moment before he lands, his black-and-white wings stretch out behind him and very long, shimmering green plumes flow back from above his tail.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Savegre, Costa Rica

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 5600

  • Behind the Shot: I’ve been photographing quetzals for many years in conjunction with a conservation program that I support in Costa Rica—it pays local farmers to plant and protect native trees essential for the bird’s survival. On this particular outing, I stood for hours waiting patiently for the male to come back to his nest hole. Suddenly the bird came in without warning, but my focus paid off when I clicked the shutter for this perfectly timed shot. This decisive moment was captured just a fraction of a second before the bird landed.

100. Greater Sage-Grouse by Grey Barbier

A male Greater Sage-Grouse stands on grass and sagebrush and directly stares down the lens. His rear spiky tail feathers are fanned behind him, and the beige air sacs on his white chest are inflated. The rising sun lights up his right side and illuminates the blurry snow-covered mountains behind him.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Coalmont, CO

  • Camera: Nikon D7500 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/2000 second at f/6.3; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: It was early in the spring, but I had been waiting all year for the sage-grouse lek. I woke up at 3 a.m., got my camera gear ready, and drove for an hour to arrive before first light. Darkness faded, and I began to see silhouettes and heard low popping sounds. As more light came over the mountains, I saw four birds displaying and fighting in the field. I was overjoyed. No females came to watch, but that didn’t stop the males from putting on an amazing show.