12 Amazing Birds winners of the Audubon Photography Awards 2021
From the finest details to the largest patterns, this year’s winners of the Audubon Photography Awards, chosen from 8,770 images and 261 video clips, offer an irresistible spectacle of the wonders of bird life.
The annual competition, organized by the Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting birds, is open to professional and amateur photographers from the United States and Canada.
Now in its 12th year, the 2021 competition includes a new category for videos and is awarded the Female Bird Prize for the first time to raise awareness of female birds that are often overlooked in both bird photography and conservation and be underestimated.
The winning photos and videos will be presented in the 2021 summer edition of Audubon Magazine and in a virtual Audubon Photography Awards exhibition.
“As these photos and videos enchant people with the beauty of the birds, two-thirds of North American birds are threatened with extinction, according to Audubon’s 2019 climate research report,” warn the organizers.
Carolina Fraser won the 2021 Grand Prix for her photo of a taller roadrunner, a member of the cuckoo family (below), taking a dust bath in Cotulla, Texas.
In the middle of an evening dust bath, a Greater Roadrunner stands proudly in the backlight of the sun. Brilliant golden light exposes white tail feathers that contrast with down feathers that fan out from the sides. Dust from a recent role in dirt remains in the air.
An iconic bird from the American Southwest that is uniquely adapted to life on the ground in arid regions. It can travel considerable distances at 20 miles per hour and get the moisture it needs from lizards, rodents, and other prey.
When water is available, it is easy to drink, but rarely, if ever, uses water for bathing.
Instead, frequent dust baths and sunbathing on cool mornings are the norm.
A red-tailed hawk holds an open-mouthed chipmunk in its yellow claws, the head and front paws of the rodent peek out from a snow-covered pole. The bird of prey’s head bends low as it looks at its chipmunk prey, a piece of fur in its blue, pointed beak.
The redtail is the most widespread of the soaring hawks in North America and also has the most widespread diet: it hunts all prey from squirrels or rats in city parks, snakes in high desert areas, or hares on sagebrush plains.
Chipmunks are frequent prey in some places. Although they only provide a small meal, they are relatively easy to catch.
A red male northern cardinal appears to hover over the snow-covered ground. The comb feathers on his head blow backwards in the wind while he flies in profile in front of gray plant stems. The bird’s three wing feathers touch the white carpet of snow, its shadow connects below.
Beak deep in a partially open yellow flower emerging from the water, a gray female red-shouldered blackbird stands balancing on a lily pad, her wings partially extended and showing the touch of red on her shoulders.
When male red-shouldered blackbirds picked dragonflies from the air to feed their nestlings, the females hopped from lily pad to lily pad looking for insects in the yellow and white flowers. It sticks its beak into the closed flower and then opens its beak wide to disperse the flower and expose insects that hide in it.
In summer, the North American swamps are animated by red-shouldered blackbirds. Males stand out when they sing and defend territory, while the more cryptically colored females do most of the actual work of rearing youngsters.
Standing on a rocky cliff dotted with feathers from past killings is a peregrine falcon with a red-crested acorn woodpecker in its bloody claws. The light brown and dark gray falcon holds a feather in its beak, while two other feathers, black above and white with blood stains below, cross in midair.
As masters of the skies, peregrine falcons are capable of catching virtually any bird, from high-speed fliers like swifts to geese larger than themselves. Peregrine falcons are best known for spectacular high-altitude dives, plummeting at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour to strike prey from the air.
But they have other hunting methods. These hawks are likely to pick up a bird like a woodpecker in a short, powerful level flight.
A female Northern Harrier flies over a wetland, her broad wings raised above her head, her long tail striped white and brown like a fan.
Northern Harriers hunt by gliding deep across open swamps and fields to watch and listen for prey. When the slender birds of prey spot a small mammal or bird, they turn around abruptly, hover briefly, and then drop.
Even a seasoned adult may only get the catch about a third of the time. Pups like this young female, identified as female by her brown eyes, may have a much lower success rate at first, but their skills improve with practice.
More than a dozen purple flowers on a Pride of Madeira plant obscure everything but a blurry wing and an Anna hummingbird eye. The hummingbird stands opposite the viewer with a clearly visible eye between two flowers and seems to be making eye contact with the photographer.
Hummingbirds are often described as having a preference for red tubular flowers. While many of these flowers evolved specifically to be pollinated by hummingbirds, that doesn’t mean the birds are ignoring other species.
Anna’s hummingbirds have to adapt to all available flowers. You will quickly learn which flowers will provide nectar at any given time and focus on them, regardless of color or shape.
Soaring in a stiff wind, a red-tailed hawk appears to soar in mid-air with its wings outstretched as it tilts its head to one side to search the ground for prey.
Redtail hawks mostly hunt from an elevated perch, as flying low enough to search for prey usually requires more hitting and more energy. Sometimes wind conditions are such that they can hang motionless, barely move their wings, and rest in the air while examining the ground.
The brown, cylindrical tip of a cattail stands upright, while a green Anna’s hummingbird, half the size, pulls out seed fibers, the fluff of which extends from its beak to the tip of the plant.
Hummingbird nests are amazing structures: tiny, strong, but flexible, stretchy as the baby birds grow. To build them, females must seek out the most delicate materials in nature – cobwebs and planting in between – to build felted walls.
When the cattails’ heads begin to crumble to scatter their seeds in the wind, they are a perfect source of the kind of flake light the hummingbirds need.
On a wet, rocky shore a sandpiper sits with its beak under its brown-gray wing, in the background the blurry blue sea waves.
No other member of the sandpiper family has such a northern range all year round as the sandpipers. These hardy birds thrive in the toughest of conditions. From their arctic breeding grounds, they drift south in late autumn to places where icy ocean waves crash violently on coastal rocks.
The sandpipers are at home in this turbulent scene, climbing in search of tiny crustaceans and even sleeping peacefully among the boulders.
In a quiet wetland with green grass and brown reeds in the background, a Canada goose flies out of the water with its wings outstretched and beak open, while another Canada goose honks back with its wings angled at 90 degrees.
Canada Geese can be very aggressive and their instinct to defend their territory is intense during the breeding season, when pairs are actively driving away their own species as well as other large intruders.
Snow gently falls over a wintry gray landscape with a large gray owl perched on a thin branch. The owl slowly turns its head to reveal piercing yellow eyes and a blood-stained beak. Snow has accumulated on the face as it examines its surroundings. The owl slowly spreads its wings and flies away silently.
Winter conditions don’t seem to bother the Great Gray, North America’s largest owl. Feathers make up much of its apparent mass, and its thick plumage allows it to thrive in sub-zero temperatures. It will plunge 18 inches into drifts to catch mice and other prey, its sharp ears sensing how it moves beneath the deep snow.