This year almost 2,500 photographers from across the United States and Canada submitted nearly 10,000 photographs and videos to Audubon‘s 13th annual Audubon Photography Awards. Reviewing anonymous image and video files, three panels of expert judges selected eight stunning winners and five honorable mentions. (Spoiler alert: It was a great year for grouse).

We couldn’t stop there, with so many more exceptional shots—and exceptional birds—worth sharing. So we’ve selected 100 additional photos to feature. Displayed in no particular order, these photos give just a taste of birds’ glorious variety. They also showcase a wide array of techniques used by wildlife photographers, as captured in entertaining and thoughtful “behind the shot” stories that accompany each image.

We hope these photos and anecdotes may inspire you to pick up a camera and capture your own unique avian moments. Be sure to peruse our photography section as you get started, including tips and how-to’s, Audubon’s ethical guidelines for wildlife photography, and gear recommendations. And remember to look out for the announcement of next year’s awards entry period in January 2023. Maybe it could be your shot that makes the cut. 

1. American Woodcock by Hector Cordero

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: New York, New York

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: I was monitoring the migration of American Woodcocks, one of the most frequent collision victims in New York City, when I found this bird. I spent hours photographing him as he looked for food between bushes and leaves. I decided to lie down on the ground and wait for the bird to come out into the open. Just minutes before dusk, he turned to face me and started walking. I rushed to get the correct parameters, focus, and composition. At that moment, my efforts paid off. I hope my photo will be useful for raising awareness about collisions and solutions to prevent them, such as installing bird-friendly glass.

2. Black Phoebe by Raechel Lee

A Black Phoebe sits in the lower right corner of the photo, its back to the camera. Its head is turned in profile and the bird gazes to the left. A small fly perches on top of its head.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Los Gatos, California

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: On a summer morning, I noticed this browner-than-usual Black Phoebe perched near a lake’s edge. Looking at it through the viewfinder revealed more distinctive colors and textures in its plumage: some rusty fringing near its nape and upper back and fluffy side feathers that—though by no means unorderly—seemed resolute in maintaining their own disposition. It was only upon reviewing the photos that I saw a surprise visitor who had snuck in to pose with this little flycatcher.

3. Black-and-white Warbler by Christy Frank

In a dark and dense woodland habitat, a Black-and-white Warbler stops in a patch of sunlight along a moss-covered branch. It looks as if it’s in a spotlight, the light illuminating its starkly contrasting face.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, Ohio

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: While many people race through the Lake Erie area to find the more colorful migrant birds, I’ve found that simply sitting in one location quietly will help me blend into the habitat. In September, I watched as a Black-and-white Warbler appeared and feasted on insects along a branch. I hoped the bird would move into a patch of sunlight illuminated in this lush habitat. When it did, I lifted my camera to capture this beautifully patterned bird that seemed to glow on its own little branched stage. I relish observing behavior and spending time with birds that many overlook. Moments like this bring such joy, and I feel so connected to the natural world.

4. Great Gray Owl by Benjamin Olson

A Great Gray Owl sits on the branch of an 80-foot-tall red pine. The bark, branches, and needles, as well as those of all the surrounding trees, are covered in the frost, making the large owl pop against the stand of trees.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Near Bemidji, Minnesota

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: In winter 2019, just before COVID-19 hit, I had one of the most remarkable weeks of my 16-year photography career. I was notified of a place where at least five Great Gray Owls were wintering, and I had to go see them for myself. On that first morning, I arrived just before sunrise to see everything covered in hoarfrost, which remained on the trees all day. Immediately after this owl hunted in front of me, it headed to this stand of red pines. I didn’t go more than five minutes without an owl in sight throughout the day, which is one I still dream of.

5. Sanderling by Jeremy Rehm

A Sanderling stands on the shoreline and looks out into the warm yellow morning sunlight at the sea’s edge, its right leg just slightly off the red-hued sand. The sky behind is pink and blue. The bird rests near pink, blue, and yellow seafoam.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague, Virginia

  • Camera: Canon EOS R6 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/800 second at f/4; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: I drove three hours to Chincoteague Island for my first real venture into photographing shorebirds. I wanted to capture photos at sunrise, but it wasn’t until my last morning that I got the chance. I plopped down on the sand on my belly near some seafoam and ahead of a long line of Sanderlings probing for food down the shoreline. When the birds finally came near, I had a hard time keeping up with them. Sanderlings’ little legs seem to go a mile a minute, but this one took a short breather right at the edge of the seafoam. It was a beautiful and serene moment before the Sanderling sprinted into the sea foam and continued its search for food.

6. Bonaparte’s Gull by John Troth

A flock of hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls fly together in a tight bunch, appearing as a band across the center of the frame. Behind them is a blurred, blue mountain, which helps to highlight the birds’ white and black plumage.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Point No Point County Park, Kitsap County, Washington

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: In early March, hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls gather in Puget Sound far out from shore, resting on the water’s surface and taking short foraging flights along it. Just before I took the photo, hundreds of the gulls took flight simultaneously, flying low over the water in the direction of my camera. I tracked this large group as the gulls approached. Just before reaching my location, the birds started to gradually gain altitude, rising and passing as a synchronized group.

7. Tree Swallow by Sarah Devlin

A Tree Swallow in flight holds a pine needle in its bill. Slightly off the ground, the bird’s wings are pointing down, its tail slightly slanted. The bottom of the image is a blurred green, the grass coming into focus closer to the bird.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Harwich, Massachusetts

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of photographing swallows. Their speed and agility make them an excellent subject for mastering the technique to capture birds in flight. On this sunny spring day, while out photographing birds at a local park, I noticed a Tree Swallow collecting pine needles and delivering them to a nest box nearby. I lay down on the ground, dug my elbows in, and waited to capture that magical moment.

8. Anna’s Hummingbird by Stephen Cassady

An Anna’s Hummingbird appears frozen in flight in the middle of the frame, its wings paused gently behind its back. The slight blur to the hummingbird’s wings blends into a dark background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Limekiln Canyon Park, Porter Ranch, California

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a6000 with a Sony E 55-210mm F/4.5-6.3 OSS lens; f 6.3; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: On every trip I had taken to Limekiln, I saw the most beautiful hummingbirds but only got awful shots of them. One day after work, when an Anna’s Hummingbird flew in from the shadows and paused in front of me, I decided that was the day. Still wearing my tie, I followed the bird up and down the dry creek bed. When I put my camera down, the hummingbird darted right back over and stopped two feet from my face. I snapped a few more shots before she flew off. It took hundreds of shots, eight ounces of sweat, and any respect the local hikers had for me, but I finally got this photo. It was worth it.

9. Village Weaver by Maria Khvan

A Village Weaver with a yellow body and black head sits inside of the beginnings of a nest. Green grass folds around the bird, its red eye peeking through two grasses. Behind it are circular finished nests made of grasses hanging from a tree branch.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Maasai Mara, Narok, Kenya

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens and a monopod; 1/8000 second at f/4; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: The first thing I noticed when I arrived at my campsite at Maasai Mara National Park was a loud chirping coming from a large acacia tree. When I walked toward the tree, I saw a colony of Village Weaver birds working hard on their intricately woven nests. The males gathered grasses and small tree leaves around the campsite and used them as building material. I spend my afternoon taking action photos. This was one of my favorites because the bird is sitting inside the nest, but you can still see its eye peeking out.

10. Blue Jay by Marie Read

A Blue Jay in the left side of the image carries an acorn in its bill as it flies through an abstract composition of out-of-focus, orange leaves. A distant American Robin, out-of-focus in the background, completes the composition.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Cornell Botanic Gardens, Ithaca, New York

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: Every autumn, I go to a local park to photograph Blue Jays that visit a grove of oak trees, gathering acorns that they carry off and hide for winter food supply. I’ve documented this vital survival behavior many times but rarely have had the opportunity to portray it artistically—until one special morning. I focused on a low-flying jay and was panning with it when it flew behind a sumac tree, whose out-of-focus leaves formed a dream-like wash of color between the camera and the subject. I kept shooting, trusting the camera to maintain focus on the now partially obscured bird, but not quite knowing what I would get. Examining the sequence of images afterwards, I was thrilled by the abstract appearance. A distant American Robin completes the composition.

11. Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Corey Raffel

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, visible in close-up from her neck and head only, feeds from a purplish-blue sage flower, her bill deep inside the bloom. Tiny bits of pollen from the flower are sprinkled on the bird’s head, and the anthers of the flower are in contact with the bird.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Carborro, North Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: While trying to take photos of Eastern Bluebirds (a lifer for me), I noticed a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (also a lifer for me) feeding on sage. When I later looked at the photos I took, I was surprised to see yellow on the bird’s head. A closer look revealed it to be pollen. An even closer look showed that the plant’s anthers were perfectly positioned to deposit pollen on the bird’s head as the bird reached deeply into the flower to get to the nectar. I further noticed how the flower’s stigma was touching the back of the hummingbird’s head, perfectly positioned to receive pollen when the hummingbird backed out of the bloom. I could not help but be astounded at this wonderful example of coevolution of plant and bird. Both species benefit from the arrangement.

12. Northern Flicker by Jeffrey Kauffman

A Northern Flicker is in midair having just come out of its nest hole. Its yellow wings appear bent as they fan out and above it. Behind the bird is its mate perched on the trunk of a tree, its beak pointed toward the cavity.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens; 1/4000 second at f/4; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: This was my second year photographing Northern Flickers as they raised their chicks. The most challenging part was trying to get both mom and dad in the same frame during feeding—they shoot out of their nest cavity like rockets. After a few days, I caught on to their routines. I intentionally kept the camera in silent shutter mode to use the rolling shutter, giving an effect on the fast-moving wings of being a little curved. I really like the effect and continue to use when I can. When the Northern Flickers show up in the spring, they become the main talking point in our home for the next few months.

13. Great Gray Owl by Tom Haarman

Two Great Gray Owls balance on the same fence post, both in profile. One is passing a vole to the other. Both have their wings outstretched, the gray and brown stripes on the undersides of their feathers standing out against the blurred woods behind them.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III with an Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens and a Marumi 77mm DHG Lens Protect Filter; 1/640 second at f/4.0; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: My buddy Rob and I were driving some range roads just out of town when we spotted the Great Gray Owl. As we slowly approached, we noticed that she was calling ever so softly. I was about to record a video when we saw another Great Gray Owl down the fence line. I quickly adjusted my camera, thinking there was going to be a territorial dispute. I started shooting as the new owl flew toward the one closer to me. I got goosebumps when I saw it had a vole in its beak. The second owl hovered on the fence post, passed it to the first, and left. Seeing this moment was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. When I look at this image, I see a love story. We should all be so lucky to have someone in our life who loves and cares for us as much as these two care for each other.

14. Mariana Crow by Trenton Voytko

A black Mariana Crow looks through a hole in the canopy. The blurred leaves of the trees framing her gaze as she appears to make eye contact with the camera lens. The Crow’s stare is inquisitive with her head ever-so-slightly cocked to the right. The rising sun is slightly noticeable in her eyes.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Rota, Northern Mariana Islands

  • Camera: Nikon D3200 with a Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/320 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: Micronesia’s only member of the Corvid family, Åga—the Chamorro word for the Mariana Crow—are endemic to the island of Rota. Previously they were also found on Guam, but the Brown Tree Snake’s introduction in the 1950s resulted in their extirpation. Now only about 200 Åga exist in the limestone jungles of Rota, where they’re critically endangered and face an uncertain future. Among Åga, this bird is special: She’s part of a rear-and-release program to bolster the wild population. A rustling in the canopy turned my attention to the treetops; there, looking down through the canopy, the bird made eye contact, her gaze soft and inquisitive as she gave my Nikon a once-over. Hopefully she and her fellow release cohort will revitalize the Åga’s population.

15. Anna’s Hummingbird by Matthew Leaman

A male Anna’s Hummingbird with just a slight red and purple coloration to his mostly black neck sits in profile on a green and snowy branch. He is facing to the left and wears a small, perfect snowflake on his forehead. Snow flurries streak past in the wind with a green background on the left, fading to a reddish-brown background on the right.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Seattle, Washington

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R II with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports lens; 1/200 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: In December 2021, Seattle experienced an unusually long cold and snowy spell. I had two feeders wrapped in Christmas lights to provide thawed nectar, and two others that I brought in at night. The feeder that this bird defended is outside the window where I work from home. As it started to snow one day, I took a break to take some photos. Since it was so cold, this hummingbird wanted to stay near the feeder and was easy to capture. I was excited when I saw the perfect little snowflake on his head in this image. I love to see if people notice it at first glance and then experience their disbelief and awe that such beauty can be found at home.

16. American Flamingo by Brynna Cooke

 A dark green backdrop frames the flamingo that faces the camera, its orange-pink feathers bright. His yellow eyes with pinpoint pupils are in focus staring into the lens for his close-up shot. A few beads of water are rolling down his cheek. His oversized black beak is out of focus, almost as if he is pressing his beak into a window to peer inside.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, Key West, Florida

  • Camera: Canon EOS 90D with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: Rhett, a male American Flamingo, was courting another flamingo in a pond. He shook his head back and forth, dipped his long neck, and displayed his fabulous colors. He followed me around the pond, shaking his head about three feet from the lens. I got the impression he enjoyed getting his photo taken (or seeing his reflection in the lens). Patience and luck are the true winners of this photo as he would not remain still. Flocks of American Flamingos used to be regular visitors to the Florida Keys. Today there are virtually none, and the few that are here have escaped from zoos. Rhett reminds Key West visitors of the beautiful birds we have displaced from paradise.

17. Prothonotary Warbler by Don Wuori

A bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler perches in profile on a moss-covered cypress knee. In its bill, it holds a large mayfly. At the bottom of the cavity inside the knee are two chicks with open bills.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Audubon Beidler Forest Center and Sanctuary, Harleyville, South Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D5 with a NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E; 1/2500 second at f/5.6; ISO 51,200

  • Behind the Shot: I was fortunate enough to locate and photograph an active Prothonotary Warbler pair feeding its chicks in the eerily still, quiet, and almost mystical Audubon Beidler Forest Sanctuary. The forest’s serenity was occasionally shattered by the hoots of a Barred Owl, but more frequently by the flash of the bright yellow bird coming to enter a cypress knee, where the hidden nest was barely visible from the boardwalk. It was exciting to see adults bringing insects to feed hungry chicks or carrying out fecal sacs. When one would enter with an insect, the chicks occasionally popped up with their mouths wide open. My fast shutter speed combined with the low light led me to do something I very rarely do—photograph the scene at a very high ISO using a tripod-mounted DSLR camera and a long telephoto lens.

18. Carolina Wren by Eaton Ekarintaragun

A Carolina Wren faces the top of the frame from an upside-down position, its profile filling most of the frame. Yellow light illuminates its face and the background, tree branches crisscrossing behind the bird.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Chesapeake Beach, Calvert County, Maryland

  • Camera: Sony NEX-7 with a Sony DT 55-300mm F/4.5-5.6 SAM lens; 1/125 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: One evening in early winter, I noticed a Carolina Wren calling with agitation. Curious, I headed closer and found two birds: one hopping around and a second suspended upside down, its foot trapped in the fork of a twig. As I slowly approached the trapped wren, the first bird flew off into a nearby shrub. I carefully watched it for any signs of distress and noticed the beautiful backlight on the bird’s face from the setting sun. I quickly raised my camera to capture the unique perspective on a common species. Then I gently wrapped my hand around the bird’s folded wings, loosened its foot, and watched joyfully as the wren flew from my hand across the trail to rejoin its partner, unharmed.

19. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Peregrine Falcon by Chris Saladin

A juvenile Peregrine Falcon perches awkwardly on a flimsy green lily pad. She hunches as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher attacks her from above, the smaller bird’s wings raised as it pulls at tufts on the falcon’s head.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland, Ohio

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: My husband and I monitor fledging peregrines in Ohio, typically arriving as early in the morning as possible. But this pair nested on the bridge inside our Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, so we couldn’t get inside until the zoo opened. When we checked the nest and saw that the fledgling was already gone, we toured the zoo and found the juvenile perched on an artificial lily pad, part of a zoo display. She seemed eager to make another flight from this low position until a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers dive-bombed her, repeatedly pecking her with their bills, tapping her with their feet, and lifting the tufts of down from her crown. We ended up talking quite a bit about peregrines with zoo members and staff as the gnatcatchers continued to pelt her.

20. Black Skimmer by Tim Timmis

A silhouette of a Black Skimmer appears to be flying directly into the water, its wings directly over its head. Another Black Skimmer is watching the landing off to the right side of the frame, the background orange from the setting sun.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Port Bolivar, Texas

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: I saw this Black Skimmer flying toward a group of terns and skimmers directly in front of me. I tracked the skimmer as it came in for a landing. It brought its wings together above his head a few inches before touching down. The position makes it seem like its wings have morphed into one larger wing over its head. You never know what you are going to get with wildlife photography, which keeps me coming back for more.

21. Brandt’s Cormorant by Adriana Greisman

A close-up of a male Brandt’s Cormorant head looks to the sky, and the bird’s iridescent blue pouch below his beak matches his brilliant blue eyes. Fine white feathers protrude from his mostly black head.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/8.0; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: While exploring the area around the walkway near La Jolla Cove, I spotted a colony of nesting Brandt’s Cormorants. Photographing here can be challenging because the colony is on the edge of a cliff. To get this shot, I stood on tiptoe and leaned over. The area is full of debris ranging from twigs and other nest-building material to shrubbery and copious bird droppings. Most of these birds were sitting on nests, but this one male was sitting by himself, spreading his wings and tilting his head back to display his bright blue gular pouch in hopes of attracting a female. Unfortunately for this bird, the only female he seemed to attract was this photographer.

22. Royal Tern by Joseph Przybyla

A Royal Tern in profile flies in mid-air, its wings outstretched and pointing down toward the blue water below. A small fish is mid-air just beyond the bird’s open bill. The fish is positioned head up to the top of the frame, its eye visible.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde, Florida

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens; 1/3200 second at f/5.6; ISO 720

  • Behind the Shot: I was at the north beach in Fort De Soto Park when I saw a group of terns diving for fish. They took one of two actions: If when diving they missed the fish, they flew higher and shook and shimmied to dry their feathers. If the tern successfully caught a fish, it flew higher and flipped the fish, caught it head-first, and swallowed it. I focused on where a tern splashed into the water, followed it as it rose from the water, and hoped the bird and fish would be aligned for a great image. I did this over and over, getting better at timing the activity with each dive. This image was the best of the series, the bird’s wing position and head perfectly angled.

23. American Avocet by Sadie Hine

 A group of American Avocets stand in a bay, the black and white of their feathers reflected in the water. In the upper right corner of the frame, an avocet with orange feathers peeks out from the crowd.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Mountain View, California

  • Camera: Canon EOS 90D with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC G2 lens; 1/320 second at f/9; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: One cloudy day in January, I decided to head to my local birding spot along the San Francisco Bay. I had been watching a group of American Avocets in the same place regularly, so I made sure to see what they were up to. The entire scene of nearly 100 birds was very black and white, a result of the weather and the birds’ winter plumage. But one of the birds stood out in full breeding plumage, its ruddy brown feathers hidden behind the other birds. It wasn’t something I expected to see in January.

24. Mute Swan by Jeff Moore

A close-up of a Mute Swan’s white head with dark mud covering its entire face, cheek, and knob above his bill fills the frame. The mud creates a splattered pattern.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS USM lens and a Canon Extender 1.4x III; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I was shooting various waterbirds on the shore of Chicago’s Lincoln Park North Pond when this Mute Swan slowly swam towards me. It had been feeding in the pond by sticking its long neck underwater in the mud. The dark, gumbo-like mud stuck to its head, creating a pattern that looked similar to the fire-flames on old hot rods. When the bird glided by, it looked as me as though it was beautifully badass, seemingly unaware its elegance was, well, muddied.

25. Common Raven by Shane Kalyn

Two Common Raven heads fill the frame, one’s beak open while the other tilts its head, appearing to inspect the first’s mouth. Their shiny feathers are in sharp contrast to the white background.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Canadian Mount Seymour Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/7.1; ISO 900

  • Behind the Shot: Every winter I visit the local mountains surrounding Vancouver to see ravens during their courtship time. Some behaviors are quite beautiful to witness, especially knowing that they mate for life. They chase each other around in the air and on the ground, delicately preen each other’s feathers, and exchange gifts like small rocks, twigs, moss, and lichens. This pair took a break from chasing each other around the treetops and landed close to where I stood. I got on my stomach in the snow to photograph them. After walking around for a bit, they stopped to inspect each other’s beaks, picking off small pieces of dirt and snow. The best part, though, were the sounds they made, talking to each other in soft and subtle caws.

26. American Avocet by Tim Timmis

A lone American Avocet rides the waves while walking though the water with only its neck and head sticking out of the water. Its long, black beak points to the lower left of the image to a blurred crest of a wave.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Texas

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/640 second at f/7.1; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: My favorite method to take shorebird photos is to lie on the wet mudflats at Bolivar Flats on the Texas Gulf Coast using a ground pod to get eye level with the birds. They do not recognize you as a person and will get very close. This lone avocet was riding the waves while walking though the water. This photo gives the illusion that I was in the water, but I was actually lying on the shoreline of a sandbar. What I love about this shot is the water swirling around the avocet’s neck, which gives it a magical feel.

27. Bald Eagle by Kazuto Shibata

A Bald Eagle flies toward the camera with a fierce look in its eyes. Its wings extend widely above its head, and the eagle is in focus against a blurred blue background of sky. Its yellow talons clasp a dead gull.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bow, Washington

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/1600 second at f/5.6; ISO 160

  • Behind the Shot: I saw an adult Bald Eagle and a juvenile fighting for food while I was driving. I quickly pulled over to watch and photograph the battle, which looked to be over a dead gull. The adult eagle snatched the meal from the young eagle and started flying toward me just as I got the shot.

28. Killdeer by Lisa Sproat

A Killdeer in the right side of the frame stalks through the mudflats in golden evening light. Surrounded by a hazy cloud of glowing shore flies, the bird looks at the camera, black stripes on its neck and head a stark contrast to the blue and brown colors in the rest of the image.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: King County, Washington

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2500 at f/4; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: I was walking through an urban park one evening when I spotted a small group of Killdeer foraging for worms along the lakeshore. I got belly-down in the mud to get a better angle. Through the viewfinder, I noticed that, as the birds moved through the mudflats, they kicked up little clouds of shore flies, which glowed in the afternoon light. Nothing in this scene was particularly beautiful taken from a wide-angle perspective; I loved how getting in tight to the macro world shows how special any moment in nature can be.

29. Snowy Owl by Simon d’Entremont

A Snowy Owl looks ready to take off from its perch, its wings over its head at 90-degree angles. Behind it, the sun is setting, giving off a yellow glow. There is snow on the ground, and a few sparse grasses below the owl, which looks slightly towards the camera.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/4.5; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: I came across this Snowy Owl in the evening, perched high on a snow-covered dune near the ocean. When I noticed that the sunset was getting quite colorful, I positioned myself where the setting sun would be behind the bird. I knew that the owl would likely leave soon to hunt. I stayed low so as not to disturb the bird and waited. When the owl stretched and pooped (an actual bird photography tip, as large birds will often do this before leaving a perch), I knew it was time. Just as the owl took off, I fired off a number of shots.

30. Wilson’s Plover by Cynthia Barbanera-Wedel

A Wilson’s Plover faces the camera in midair, its wings outstretched and legs straight as if it’s just jumped up from the sand. Behind it is the blurred shoreline in shades of blue, aqua, purple, beige, and gray, which contrast with the mostly white bird.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde, Florida

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and a B+W 77mm XS-Pro Clear MRC-Nano 007 Filter; 1/8000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I was lying on my stomach with my elbows resting in the wet sand as I watched this Wilson’s Plover bathe. The bird shook off its wings and took flight as I released my continuous shutter. I love its wing position, the layers of color in the sand, and saltwater spray behind it. At Fort De Soto, there are usually a myriad of birds around, but I’m partial to the plovers. So many people seem to walk the beaches without seeing them at all; I love the idea of shooting what others may not even notice.

31. Anna’s Hummingbird by Michael Armour-Johnson

A female Anna's Hummingbird appears sideways in the middle of the frame, surrounded by bright green leaves. She looks as if she’s lying down, but she is wiping her head on water dotting the leaf.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lakewood, Washington

  • Camera: Canon EOS 90D with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/1250 at f/6.3; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: I stood out on a third-floor patio, camera gear at hand, in a light rainstorm. Looking down, I noticed a hummingbird bathing in the water pooling on shrub leaves. Sensing a photo opportunity, I took several photographs as the bird twisted and turned, wiping her head on the shiny leaves.

32. Mallard by Alexander Eisengart

A Mallard drake looks straight at the lens, his yellow beak slightly out of focus. His blue head is surrounded by what looks like a halo of white light.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Beachwood, Ohio

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a6400 with a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro lens; 1/500 second at f/2.8; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: Every spring, summer, and fall, local Mallards come to my patio for a snack at sunset and eat the birdseed we put out. Most of these birds are released domestic Mallards, but some, like this one, were born in the wild. One day at sunset, I decided that I wanted a photo of this guy, one of our largest and most dominant males. I went out, lined up my shot, and took his portrait.

33. Superb Starling by Maria Khvan

A bluish-green Superb Starling flies in the air between the green branches of an acacia tree. The tree’s spindly branches extend to the upper edges of the frame and have long white spikes. The bird’s eyes are pale yellow, and its head is turned to the right as if it were watching someone or something.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Serengeti National Park, Arusha, Tanzania

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens; 1/6400 second at f/5; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: I was sitting at a campsite in Serengeti National Park between safari tours when I aimed to take an “in flight” photo of any bird I saw. After a few minutes, I saw a Superb Starling land on a nearby acacia tree. I set my camera to a fast shutter speed and focused on the bird. As soon as I saw it getting ready to fly, I took as many photos as I could. This shot was my favorite because the bird looks slightly evil.

34. Least Tern by Shijun Pan

A flying Least Tern in profile brings a fish to another tern sitting on a piece of driftwood. The bird with the fish is in the air, its wings stretched and pointed over its head, the catch silver in the light. The bird on the wood stands with its back to the camera, its head turned to the other bird and bill opened in preparation.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Garnier Bayou, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

  • Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a 300mm f/4.0 lens; 1/1600 second at f/4.5; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: Every spring, little terns play, fly, feed, and mate around my backyard dock in the bayou. They are highly elusive, always splashing and diving into water to catch prey or hurriedly perform aerial displays. I spotted a male and female through my window one morning and ran outside to set up my camera. Just in time, I captured them sharing a small fish atop of a piece of driftwood. This quick moment backlit by the glow of a bayou sunrise brought me a sense of gratitude for the beauty nature continually provides.

35. Canada Jay by John Welch

A white and gray Canada Jay perches on what looks like a sculpture of ice, its wings outstretched, blurred slightly from motion. The tree top it is standing on is bent in an arch and encrusted with delicate rime ice crystals.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens; 1/2000 second at f/6.3; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: In winter, the world above 4,000 feet in the White Mountains is brutally cold but enchanting. Impressively, Canada Jays will mate, nest, and raise chicks up here between February and early April, when temperatures are still below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the forest is buried in snow and encased in rime ice. I made the 6-mile roundtrip hike with 2,200 feet of vertical gain on a 10-degree January morning to photograph this bird. The biggest challenge was standing still in the biting wind, and I routinely stuffed my hands under my clothes to regain feeling in them. It paid off when this Canada Jay landed on the top of a stunted spruce tree, shattering delicate rime ice crystals.

36. Green Jay by Matthew Gutt

Facing directly to the camera, this yellow-bodied, blue-headed Green Jay rests on a low tree branch. Fluffed to resemble a cotton ball, the bird is just off center in the frame, with blurred leaves and tree branches behind it.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Los Fresnos, Texas

  • Camera: Nikon D7100 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens and tripod; 1/160 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: As a seasonal wildlife technician with the National Park Service, I explore many places while working to protect wildlife. On assignment in Padre Island National Seashore, I spent my off time exploring state parks and local preserves. I spent many weekends searching for the beautiful Green Jay with no luck. Then one spring morning, as the sun filled the horizon, I heard the song I had been seeking. I followed the notes to a grouping of trees and shrubs. Within minutes I spotted my first Green Jay erratically hopping in the thick, low-hanging branches. I set up my tripod, and as I finished tightening the last latch, the erratic movement finally fell still.

37. Vermilion Flycatcher by Cynthia Lockwood

A male Vermilion Flycatcher perches on a white tree branch, his body in profile as he looks to the left. His red feathers stand out against a dark background, while the sun also illuminates flying insects.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Brazos Bend State Park, Needville, Texas

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/200 second at f/9; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: I spent the day hiking and taking photos of the many marsh dwellers, including birds and alligators. As the day was ending, I climbed to the top of the observation tower to photograph the sunset. Right away I noticed a male Vermilion Flycatcher flying back and forth from a tree branch as it snatched insects in midair. I switched from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens to better capture his antics.

38. Red-crowned Cranes by Marti Phillips

More than two dozen silhouetted Red-crowned Cranes stand in the middle of a river shrouded in mist. The riverbanks are covered in snow, with dark tall hills in the background. The first rays of the sun make the mist appear yellow.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Setsuri River, Tsurui Village, Hokkaido, Japan

  • Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/800 second at f/8.0; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: Although deeply entrenched in Japanese culture, the Red-crowned Crane was on the brink of extinction until strong conservation efforts brought it back. More than half of the world’s population can now be found in eastern Hokkaido. Many roost overnight in the middle of this river on the island. On a winter morning, in what was probably the coldest temperature that I had ever experienced, I got up early to catch the first light on the river. This shot was taken just as the sun’s rays appeared from over the horizon, casting a spotlight on the birds as they awoke and flew off to the fields to feed.

39. Canada Goose by Thirumalai Suresh

An adult Canada Goose is covered in water. The reflection of the bird is displayed in the water. As the water glows in the morning sunlight, the bird is gazing straight ahead, and water spills from its head, eyes, and bill.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, California

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 600mm f/4 FL ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: I was hoping to capture ducks in the beautiful morning light, but a flock of Canada Geese near the lake caught my attention. One dipped its beak into the water, and I instantly wanted to capture its grace. I adjusted my camera settings and laid flat on the ground to get eye-level shots. While I changed my settings, another goose approached a spot with perfect lighting and started dipping its head in the water as well. I fired a flurry of shots and captured the goose’s direct gaze with the water droplets, its reflection in the lake.

40. Wood Duck by Liron Gertsman

This closeup image features the spectacular feather details of a male Wood Duck. Blue, gold, and purple are several prominent colors on display in the bird’s plumage. Photographed on a rainy day, his body is covered in glistening water droplets.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Delta, British Columbia, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon EF EOS R Mount Adapter; 1/160 second at f/14; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: Seeing a day of torrential rain in the forecast, I headed out to a local wildlife refuge to photograph ducks in the elements. I had been working on a series of photos capturing details in the feathers of ducks for quite some time, so I was looking forward to this opportunity to capture birds with water droplets on their bodies. I saw a male Wood Duck sitting up on a fence, overlooking a large slough. I approached slowly and focused on his droplet-covered back. When people think of places with beautiful, brightly colored birds, they tend to think of the tropics. Spectacular birds can be found just about anywhere though.

41. Black Skimmer by Marie Read

A Black Skimmer carrying a small fish in its bill flies directly toward the viewer. The bird is positioned in the middle of the frame with its wings extending beyond the top of the frame. The bird’s wings are almost completely vertical and parallel to each other against a blurred green background.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Nickerson Beach Park, New York

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: This image was captured near a tern and skimmer breeding colony at a popular beach on the southern shore of Long Island, where the birds are fairly tolerant of people. Late one afternoon, I turned my attention to flight shots of skimmers arriving with fish to feed their young, zooming in for closeups. Under these conditions, it’s a struggle to keep the bird properly framed, but at one point, I managed to capture several shots of a skimmer flying directly toward me. Several things clinched this shot as my favorite: the unusual front view, the symmetry of the wings at the peak of the upstroke, the shallow depth of field, drawing attention to the bird’s eyes, and, of course, the hapless fish.

42. Marbled Godwit by Josiah Launstein

The surface of the water is broken by only the feathers and beak of a Marbled Godwit flinging water into the air as it bathes. The beige tones of the wetland reeds appear soft in the background. The long beak is pointing straight upward, and there are water droplets across the scene.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Frank Lake, Alberta, Canada

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: I was photographing shorebirds and waterfowl at one of my favorite wetland areas when a pair of Marbled Godwits caught my eye. As one preened, the other waded in the shallows. I followed this godwit with my lens as it worked along the edge of the reeds. Suddenly, it decided to take a full bath. It dropped down into the water and submerged its head and neck, then tossed the water everywhere. I was lying in the mud along the opposite bank and timed my shot to when its beak was perfectly perpendicular to the surface. I like how it isn’t immediately clear what you’re looking at in the resulting image.

43. Red-breasted Nuthatch by James MacKenzie

A Red-breasted Nuthatch hangs from a pinecone, its body pointing toward the ground. The small bird is blue-gray on top and orange on the bottom, sporting a black face stripe boldly across a white cheek. The background of the image is mostly orange, matching the bird.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Salmon Point, Vancouver Island, Canada

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: In my first winter since moving to Vancouver Island, the weather was overcast, damp, and windy. At the end of a long birding walk along the Pacific Ocean, I first heard the typical (and adorable) honking of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. When I spotted it foraging industriously along the pine cones of a Douglas fir next to my car, I quickly positioned myself to avoid my photographic nemesis: a white background. My only other option was a building currently under construction. I always try to integrate color into my backgrounds and creative decisions like using manmade structures often yield rewards.

44. Bald Eagle by Suresh Easwar

A Bald Eagle flies just over the water. Facing the camera, it tows the remains of a freshly killed duck. Droplets of water spray behind the raptor, the white feathers of its tail fanned out behind it.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, Central Park, New York, New York

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2x III; 1/1000 second at f/8; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: For two weeks in January 2022, a Bald Eagle terrorized the denizens of the reservoir in New York City’s Central Park. The eagle, banded “R7” in 2018 by Connecticut Fish and Wildlife, would swoop in and snare gulls in mid-flight. One frigid morning, I walked to the reservoir, which had nearly completely iced over. The sun had just risen, and I saw the eagle in the distance, defeathering and devouring its prey on the ice. I ran as quickly as I could with my heavy gear and positioned myself. The surface of the icy reservoir shimmered golden-yellow from the sunlight that reflected off skyscraper window glass. I bumped up the ISO to 2000 and set my camera to the highest burst rate it allowed. As the eagle took off, it left feathers, viscera, and other body parts from its kill strewn below.

45. Trumpeter Swan by Natalie Behring

A Trumpeter Swan stands in profile in shallow water, its wings outstretched behind it and its chest arched. The light is coming from behind, so the swan is slightly silhouetted. The mist in the air is iridescent with oranges and yellows while the snow at the bottom of the frame is blue.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Kelly Warm Springs, Wyoming

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM lens; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: It was bitterly cold on New Year’s Day 2021, and it took a lot of willpower to bundle up and drive over the Teton Pass, but I wanted to start the year off with some nice photos. I wandered down the road to Kelly, where I thought I might see some moose. When I passed a warm spring, which normally looks like an ordinary pond, I saw mist coming off the water and swans swimming. I scrambled out of the car. My fingers froze immediately, but I still spent 20 minutes taking photos, only going back into my car to warm up and wait for the sun get lower in the sky. When I saw the setting sun had turned the mist yellow, I got this photo as a swan stretched its wings.

46. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Caleb Hoover

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron looks slightly to the right, his head and body in the frame. His breeding plumes blow in the wind, sticking out from his blue-gray body. The lower half of the image is blurred green, contrasting with the bird’s bright orange eyes.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Sarasota, Florida

  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 600mm F/4L IS USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/4; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: A small Yellow-crowned Night-Heron had found a home in a small stretch of mangroves surrounded by tall buildings, a busy road, and boat traffic. He seemed relatively undisturbed by the hectic surroundings. I had watched this bird hunt and chase off younger herons from his coveted hunting grounds. After a successful crab catch, the satisfied heron began preening, his breeding plumes blowing in the air. To reach him in front of the mangroves, I army crawled to my subject. The short distance felt like an eternity. Once I lined myself up, the heron composed himself and did a post-preen shake to align his gorgeous plumage.

47. Clark’s Grebe by Dakota Lamberson

In soft warm light, a pair of white Clark’s Grebes with bright red eyes and yellow beaks and feet look as if they are running across a glassy lake. Their necks outstretched and wings flung back, they are captured side-by-side. Huge water splashes trail behind them.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Santa Margarita Lake, Santa Margarita, California

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/6400 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: Ever since I first saw grebes rushing at a lake near my home, I have wanted to capture the courting behavior. When I attempted to photograph them from the shore, though, they would never rush close enough. I noticed that fishing boats that moved right by them didn’t scare the birds, so I decided to try kayaking. After several outings, I realized the best time to see grebes rushing in good light was in the morning. I got up early and launched my kayak while most grebes were still sleeping, their heads tucked under their wings. I paddled near a group while staying distant so I didn’t force them to move and positioned myself with the sun behind me. Hours later they became more active, and this pair rushed right past me!

48. Austral Pygmy-Owl by Carter Kremer

An Austral Pygmy-Owl perches on a tangle of green moss-covered branches and looks over its shoulder. In the background, the blurred sky is colored yellow and orange from the setting sun.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Puerto Natales, Chile

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: While living in Chile, I struck out multiple times looking for this tiny owl. Finally, I had luck on the evening of my birthday. I got okay photos but decided to come back later that week to see if I could get luckier. To my surprise, I did. This owl spent an hour hunting between a couple of perches as the beautiful Chilean sun set on the mountains behind it.

49. Yellow-breasted Chat by Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson

A yellow-fronted bird in profile sings, its beak open, in a sea of tall stems that end in bunches of small yellow flowers. The bird is roughly the same size as the flower pods, some of which are in focus around the bird.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Irvine, California

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: Every spring I go to the same spot to rendezvous with a beautiful Yellow-breasted Chat. I wait until the mustard flowers are in full bloom, a wonderful cover for the bird. I carefully scan the area, listening for its whistles, screeches, mew calls, cackles, high-pitched notes, and clucks. After a while, there it is, proud and wonderful, in the open, singing its heart out as if its life depended on it. It gives me its best spring song and shows its vibrant color. My camera is ready, I take a breath to calm down my excitement. Click!

50. Snowy Owl by David Lei

 A white Snowy Owl with dark barring across her body and yellow eyes perches on the highest branch of a locust tree. Her back to the frame, she looks to the side and into the distance, a quilt of yellow and blue squares from an illuminated apartment building blurred in the background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Central Park, New York, New York

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7S III with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens and a Sony FE 2x Teleconverter; 2.5 second at f/8; ISO 8000

  • Behind the Shot: In the winter of 2021, New York’s Central Park had its first reported Snowy Owl in more than 130 years. She perched in this locust tree regularly, so I was able to experiment with different compositions and techniques without disturbing the owl. I found a position several hundred feet away to frame the illuminated windows of a Fifth Avenue apartment building in the background and took this photo using a long exposure without flash. Perched owls can be quite still, and the wind was thankfully not blowing. Given the distance, I used a 600mm lens with a 2x teleconverter, as well as a tripod and remote shutter release. The owl was a symbol of hope and wonder in a city suffering greatly through the pandemic, including me personally. My experience watching her led me to develop a deep passion for urban owls.

51. Green Heron by Michael Fogleman

A Green Heron prowls in a pond with its neck outstretched and head close to the water, stalking potential prey. The photo is taken head on, and much of the bird is out of focus. The eyes are in tack-sharp focus, emphasizing the bird's intense concentration on its hunt.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Salem Pond Park, Apex, North Carolina

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F/4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens; 1/500 second at f/7.1; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: After discovering that several pairs of Green Herons were nesting at a pond just a mile from my home, I started checking in on them almost every day during the breeding season. The pond provided excellent opportunities to observe and photograph these birds from a relatively short distance away. On this day, one Green Heron was hunting for food at the pond’s edge. Some individuals are more approachable than others, and this one was relatively tame. As it headed in my direction, I got some nice shots of its stalking pose. Very soon after this photo was taken, it caught a giant frog.

52. Sanderling by Marlee Fuller-Morris

Three white and brown birds in profile bathe in a shallow pool of bright blue water against a blurred tan background. Water droplets in the air sparkle as the birds flick them off their bodies. The birds’ rumps are turned upwards in what appears to be a synchronized motion.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: False Cape State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia

  • Camera: Canon EOS 70D with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f/8; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: The difficult hike to False Cape means there aren’t many people on this stretch of quiet beach, allowing for an abundance of wildlife, including large flocks of wintering sanderlings. On this day, the receding tide had left pools of water in depressions in the sand. The Sanderlings bathed, dipped, splashed, and threw a ton of water into the air. I lay down on the wet sand and slowly crept towards a small flock. I focused on three birds and hoped to get them splashing in sync. Like much of the coast, False Cape is losing land every year to sea-level rise. I’m hopeful that photos of special places like this, and the birds and other wildlife that need them, can inspire urgency to combat this crisis.

53. Sandhill Crane by Jayden Preussner

A Sandhill Crane in closeup cleans its wing feathers, its head pointing toward the ground. Its red crown and orange eye stand out in the otherwise gray image.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Vero Beach, Florida

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II lens; 1/2000 second at f/4; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: My friend and I decided to drink our morning coffee outside by the lake. Soon a family of Sandhill Cranes, which we had been seeing around, arrived. We watched them for about 20 minutes when I decided to take some pictures. The birds were starting to get very comfortable with us, allowing me to get a photo that filled the frame very nicely and made me quite happy. I thought it was amazing to watch the young birds play with each other while the adults cleaned their feathers. To me, it almost seemed like they were tired parents done with their two overly excited youngsters.

54. Trumpeter Swans by Eileen de la Cruz

Three Trumpeter Swans fly over the clouds and hills that appear dusted in snow. The blue and gray colors of the birds match the background as the birds make their way across the landscape, which looks far below.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Skagit Valley, Washington

  • Camera: Fujifilm X-T3 with a FUJIFILM XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: It was March 2020, just a week before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. My husband and I were about to leave for Spain, but we canceled our trip and drove to the Skagit Valley instead. Thousands of Trumpeter Swans spend the winter here, feeding in the agricultural fields before they head north in spring. It was a strange and stressful time, but watching the birds was healing. On this cold morning I first heard then spotted the swans overhead. From my vantage point and with my lens, it appeared as if I was at the same level as the birds, high above the clouds and the frosted trees.

55. Short-eared Owl by Scott Suriano

A football-sized Short-eared Owl with outstretched wings flies low across a light brown colored field of tall frozen grasses. The ice creates a glittery scene over which the bird flies.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2x III; 1/2000 second at f/8; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: On a late afternoon in February, I traveled to Gettysburg to photograph Short-eared Owls hunting in one of the historic Civil War battlefields. The previous day’s rain coupled with freezing temperatures had caused ice to crystalize on the tall grasses that blanketed the fields. As the sun lowered on the horizon, these fierce, pint-sized birds of prey roused from their ground roosts and shot up in the air like Roman candles to begin their evening hunting. The angle of the light and icy conditions created a surreal, glowing silver and golden bokeh. Keeping a respectful distance to avoid disrupting their routine, I added a 2x teleconverter to my long fixed prime lens and attempted to capture the fast-paced action of these acrobatic raptors in this glittery, magical landscape.

56. American Bittern by Joshua Galicki

A brown and white American Bittern stands in profile, looking slightly up, as water falls from the sky. A large droplet appears to be a tear coming from the side of its face. The blurred green background helps the bird’s feathers stand out.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Sullivan County, Pennsylvania

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens and Canon EF EOS R Mount Adapter and Canon Extender EF 2x III; 1/320 second at f/8; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: While standing waist-deep in water, under a blind and during a steady spring rain, I captured this American Bittern portrait. The bird stayed perfectly idle during a lengthy downpour, deep inside a freshwater wetland. While the conditions were dreary, it was incredible to watch this amazing and steadfast species. American Bitterns are endangered in the state of Pennsylvania due to declining habitat and the quality of remaining wetlands. I’ve been trying to document these birds, which can be difficult to see, in the hopes of raising awareness for their preservation.

57. Virginia Rail by Thomas McDonald

A Virginia Rail appears to run straight toward the viewer, its right foot causing a splash and the left foot raised. The wings are outstretched, their tips slightly blurred. Water droplets fill the center of the frame from the splash in front of green foliage.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Mayville, Wisconsin

  • Camera: Nikon D5 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens; 1/2000 second at f/10; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: I have spent many summer hours at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge observing and photographing herons, cranes, and waterfowl. Arriving at the marsh early in the morning, I started walking down the floating boardwalk to a spot I have seen Soras and Virginia Rails. Lying down, trying to get the lowest possible position, a Virginia Rail ran across the boardwalk. I turned to where the rail stopped, taking some photos while the bird was foraging and preening in the reeds and cattails. After a few minutes, the rail started to take off toward me, and I captured this shot.

58. Northern Flicker by John Welch

A Northern Flicker, the red on the back of its brown and gray head visible, sticks its head out of a cavity in a tree. Rough bark surrounds its head in profile. Blurred green leaves form a frame of the scene.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Private Property, New Hampshire

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens; 1/400 second at f/6.3; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: At the outset of the pandemic, my family was delighted to discover a pair of Northern Flickers making their home within sight of ours. Early in the nesting cycle, we observed the pair switching off who would stay in the hole, presumably to incubate the eggs. I set up some concealment in the nearby bushes and would shoot through overhanging leaves to create this natural blurred green frame. As the season progressed, we observed both parents making many more return trips to the nest, feeding the chicks who grew bigger each day. They poked their begging bills out of the nest hole. We may have spent more time at home that spring, but we still felt connected to the wider world through this window to the wild.

59. Brown Pelican by Irina Pigman

 A Brown Pelican sits on slightly rippling water, the bird’s entire body in profile. Its throat pouch, hanging under its long beak, is translucent and pink and is illuminated by the early morning light.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Saint Petersburg, Florida

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 with a Sony FE 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens and a Zeiss UV filter; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: After a trip to Europe last November, I was really jet lagged. I took advantage and got up before sunrise to see birds at my favorite spot on the water. Just as I arrived, I saw a juvenile Brown Pelican fishing. This bird is quite common in Florida, but all of the sudden, the sight of it made me catch my breath. The sun was still pretty low behind the bird, and the rays went straight through the pelican’s throat pouch, making it glow radiantly in the low light. The throat pouch’s capacity to fit three times more fish than its stomach has always fascinated me, but I’ve never seen it as an object of beauty. This pelican’s translucent jowls mesmerized me.

60. Downy Woodpecker by Michael Lovejoy

Amid an endless field of tall, tan saltmarsh reeds, a lone Downy Woodpecker perches. It faces sideways at a distance in the middle of the frame on a single reed. The bird’s stark black and white feathers stand out against the sea of stalks.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newbury, Massachusetts

  • Camera: Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens; 1/320 second at f/5.6; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: My partner finally got me into birding over the course of the pandemic. She gave me binoculars, but it was a used telephoto lens and the challenge of trying to photograph birds that hooked me. On an early December evening, after visiting family nearby, we explored Plum Island and came upon saltmarsh reeds as tall and dense as I had ever seen. It was an amazing sight unto itself, but then I noticed some movement deep off the trail. I caught a glimpse of a Downy Woodpecker hopping and pecking. My favorite part of birding is that you always come away with at least one standout memory—a moment of experiencing true unfiltered nature. The photo is just a great keepsake and a spark for my burgeoning interest.

61. Western Grebe by Scott Suriano

A black and white Western Grebe, with its long neck and red eyes, glides peacefully through calm water. Reflections from fiery orange-colored trees that line the shore in the water surround the bird.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Loch Raven Reservoir, Baltimore County, Maryland

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS III USM lens and Canon Extender EF 2x III; 1/500 second at f/8; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: The local birding community was abuzz when an unlikely pair of wintering Western Grebes graced a northern Maryland lake. Hoping to glimpse these rare visitors, I packed my gear and headed out. To my delight, I spotted the celebrity couple right away swimming in the lake’s center. I watched these birds interact and dive for food for about an hour before they split up and began swimming in separate directions. The trees cast warm reflections that stretched into the calm, cold waters. This grebe, gliding effortlessly, sliced through the seemingly ablaze shoreline.

62. Trumpeter Swan by Elizabeth Boehm

A Trumpeter Swan stands in shallow water, mist rising from the pond. The first sun of the day enters the photo from the left, lighting up the side of the swan as it arches its neck and leans back to preen the wing in shadow.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Pinedale, Wyoming

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1000 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: An hour before sunrise on a misty, calm August morning, I headed out to a privately-owned pond to photograph waterfowl and shorebirds. After carefully walking 200 yards in the dark, my floating blind over my head, I quietly slipped into the water. I had clear skies to the east, promising good light. A resident pair of Trumpeter Swans became curious and moved in close to my blind, unaware of my presence. They preened their feathers as the sun rose, and I captured them as they groomed. I spent several hours photographing a variety of waterbirds and left the pond exhilarated.

63. American White Pelican by Candice Head

A large flock of White Pelicans all face the same direction, their orange bills pointing to the left of the frame as they swim together in a lake. The flock fills nearly the entire frame. With their similar coloring, the pelicans seem identical. Rough water at the top and bottom of the image frames the flock.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Lake Saint Joseph, Newellton, Louisiana

  • Camera: Fujifilm X-H1 with a FUJIFILM XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens and lens UV filter; 1/1600 second at 5.6; ISO setting 800

  • Behind the Shot: On a mild December afternoon, I noticed some White Pelicans in the lake near my home. The Mississippi River Delta is known for its abundance of wildlife, particularly migrating birds. White Pelicans have come to the lake before, but never so many at one time. It was a captivating sight. As I watched, I was mesmerized by the image of so many seemingly identical birds swimming in perfect unison. Grabbing my camera and heading closer to the lake, I captured what has become a favorite photo of mine: a shot that embodies both the chaos and peace of a tight-knit community.

64. Tree Swallow by Alexander Eisengart

Two swallows perch on dried grasses and look directly into the camera. A dew-covered spiderweb, attached to one of these perches, glimmers in the light. A third Tree Swallow flies through the frame between the perched birds, the image entirely golden.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Margaret Peak Nature Preserve, North Ridgeville, Ohio

  • 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 250

  • Behind the Shot: I’m 14 years old, so obviously I can’t drive. On my birthday, my mom took me birding at sunrise. At this time during the summer, smoke from fires throughout the West blew into the eastern United States. This made the sunlight diffuse, giving the sunrise a really cool look. Luckily for me, there were tons of Tree Swallows. They flew around catching insects, and the morning dew looked great on the spider webs.

65. Great Blue Heron by Mary Badger

The photograph is centered on a Great Blue Heron perched in a pine tree. The heron is nestled in between branches draped with long green pine needles. Soft light highlights the bird’s blue and gray plumage.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, Davis, California

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7 III with a Sony FE 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: Every day I take my lunch break at the UC Davis Arboretum, where I work as a researcher using genetic tools to study wildlife conservation. I am always amazed how wild the arboretum feels, with waterbirds making their way down the creek, warblers flitting in and out of the trees and bushes, and hawks hunting in the lawns. I started bringing my camera with me during post-lunch walks. One day I saw this magnificent Great Blue Heron sitting in a pine tree overlooking the water. I sat snapping shots and watching people go by, enjoying their looks of wonderment when they saw the heron perched above. This photo reminds me of the hidden beauty and biodiversity of public green spaces.

66. Sandhill Crane by William Farnsworth

An adult Sandhill Crane feeds a damselfly to one of its colts. In the left top corner frame, the adult’s long beak carefully holds the insect while the orange, bushy colt seems to inspect the bug, its body leaning in from the right.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Kensington Metropark, Milford, Michigan

  • Camera: Nikon D7500 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/4 FL ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/4.0; ISO 360

  • Behind the Shot: I watched a pair of adult Sandhill Cranes forage for food with their two young colts. The parents encouraged the colts to find their own meal. To my surprise, they were quite successful. Then, one of the parents found a damselfly on the ground. Rather than eating it, the adult grabbed it in its beak and called over one of the colts, who eagerly took the offering. This was a very special moment that I had the pleasure of capturing: a parent expressing love to its offspring. The interaction lasted no more than five seconds, but the moment itself was timeless.

67. Blue Jay by Alessandro Retacchi

Two Blue Jays fight in the sky; their outstretched wings seem to glow in the light. Behind them are evergreens, snow on the ground, and people walking along a path in the park, a streetlight just to the right of the pair.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Central Park, New York, New York

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens; 1/2500 second at f/4; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: On this cold day, I found a female Northern Cardinal on a branch covered with snow. As I was trying to photograph her, I noticed two very vocal Blue Jays. I was able to focus and shoot a burst of photos as they fought, their feathers seeming to glow in the light. I had always hoped to photograph two birds in flight with the faces clearly visible and facing each other. In this case, one Blue Jay has the trademark raised crest in a sign of aggression.

68. Song Sparrow by Ashrith Kandula

An alert brown and white Song Sparrow stands in profile on a freshly-cut grass lawn. A circular yellow light in the background frames the bird’s head.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Wallingford, Pennsylvania

  • 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; 1/1000 second at f/8.0; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: One of my favorite pandemic projects was capturing unique portraits of common birds such as the Song Sparrow. Although some may think these birds are boring because of their bland colors, I think they’re interesting because their songs are quite melodious. After spending months with this individual, who I named Fergus, I understood his personality and was able to capture him on flowers and with different lighting. One day, I noticed a white car in the background take a left turn with its headlights on. I took many shots and was very excited when I took a photo with Fergus’s head in front of the light, which looked like the sun. It was great to incorporate both manmade and natural elements into one shot.

69. Burrowing Owl by Brian Browne

A Burrowing Owl crouches in the hollow at the end of an old cut and deeply riveted and gnarled log. The black and gray log contrasts with some pieces of lichen and spiderwebs that cling to the wood. Spurs of wood jut into the central hollow and seem to point towards the brown owl in the center, its piercing yellow eyes looking straight at the camera.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Corte Madera, California

  • Camera: Nikon D3500 with a Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens; 1/640 at f/6.3; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: In November 2020, I visited my grandma in Oregon for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. We drove around the area to look for birds, and at the end of the day, went to Agate Lake, a small reservoir where a Burrowing Owl (a local rarity) had been reported for several days. After some searching, I found it sitting at the end of a cut log. Slowly approaching it as evening set in and the temperature plunged, I watched and took some photos, the details in the wood framing the small owl perfectly. As my grandma and I returned to the car, we heard the owl call before it flew from its nook into the fields.

70. American Dipper by Kate Persons

An American Dipper stands in shallow water in front of an icy cavern rimmed in hoarfrost. The cavern and the bird are subtly reflected in the still water. The dipper’s head is tucked, its white eyelids are closed. Its wings are pressed to its sides, and its back is flecked with bits of ice. The scene appears almost as a black-and-white image, the only color being the bird’s yellowish bill.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Nome, Alaska

  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/4.5; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: On a negative 26-degree Fahrenheit day in December, I sat quietly wiggling my toes by an open hole on the edge of the Nome River, where a pair of dippers had regularly been feeding on chironomid larvae and other aquatic invertebrates. After about 30 minutes, I heard the dippers call. One began diving and feeding in front of me. Unbelievably, the bird flitted in front of an interesting-looking cavern rimmed with hoarfrost and began preening. The bird gave me an entire repertoire of postures, from the comical to the dramatic. Cold toes were forgotten! I chose this amusing image of the dipper looking down with closed eyes covered by white eyelids as if praying, in front of an icy grotto.

71. Bald Eagle by Tamara Enz

On a sandy beach littered with drift logs, an immature Bald Eagle prepares for flight, its wings directly over its head. Forested coastal mountains are visible in the background, shrouded by mist blown from the breaking surf. The eagle leans into the wind.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Nehalem Bay State Park, Manzanita, Oregon

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7 with a Sony E 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 OSS LE lens; 1/2000 second at f/8; ISO 200

  • Behind the Shot: While working for Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, a National Estuary Project in Garibaldi, Oregon, I conducted a community science project collecting plastic pellets called nurdles that litter the shore. During this nurdle survey, I stopped to photograph shorebirds feeding along the surf line. As I photographed, an immature eagle landed on a drift log behind me. Each of us unaware of the other, the eagle leapt into flight when I turned away from the shorebirds. I shot a series of photos as the eagle gained lift and moved down the beach. Finding shorebirds and eagles along this stretch of coast brings the conservation and restoration work that I have done through the years full circle for me. As a field biologist, writer, and photographer, the elements of what I do and what I appreciate came together for this shot.

72. Common Ostrich by Lisa Sproat

A female Common Ostrich in profile hunkers down in the tall grass during a rainstorm. Her feathers are soaked through as blurred droplets rain down.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Masai Mara National Park, Kenya

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/50 at f/4; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: On a drive through the Masai Mara National Reserve in the early afternoon, we spotted a distant trio of ostriches feeding in the harsh sun. As afternoon turned to dusk, a brief but dramatic thunderstorm rolled through the grassland. We came upon the three birds again bedded down nearer the road, weathering the storm. Ostriches lack the special waterproofing gland many other birds have, so their luxuriant plumage can be completely soaked through by a heavy rain in minutes. Since this bird was completely still, I used a long exposure to lengthen the raindrops and give a bit of context to that classic ostrich frown.

73. Reddish Egret by Kieran Barlow

A Reddish Egret stands in profile, in water colored pink by the sunset. The bird holds a fish in its beak, its silhouette against an orange sky and purple ripples in the water.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde, Florida

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/1250 second at f/6.3; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: On a trip to Florida, one of the birds I hoped to see most was a Reddish Egret. When these elegant wading birds showed up, I took countless portraits and pictures of their unique fishing method. But I really wanted to photograph one during a sunset. One night, when I could see a sliver of clear sky beneath dense clouds, I found a Reddish Egret and laid down in the water, careful to avoid the jellyfish and toxic algae. While barely keeping my camera above the waves, I started snapping until the sun ducked below the horizon. I walked off the beach that night soaking wet and covered in sand but with memories I will cherish the rest of my life.

74. Greater Flamingo by Vicki Jauron

The image features an off-center closeup of two light pink Greater Flamingos facing each other, their fluorescent beaks touching at the tip in profile view. Water drops appear around their brighter pink beaks, their long necks almost forming a heart shape against a blurred green background.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Amboseli National Park, Kajiado County, Kenya

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8 lens and Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E; 1/1000 second at f/4.8; ISO 280

  • Behind the Shot: During my first visit to Amboseli in 2017, flamingos were not residents. In recent years, though, thanks to more water in the environment, flamingos and many other waterbirds have come back, enriching the normal safari experience. While observing the birds in 2021, I saw two Greater Flamingos involved in some sort of encounter. Whether their interaction was amicable, amorous, or otherwise, was unclear, but it was fun watching them beak to beak, contorting their necks together into different shapes. It was refreshing to capture this interaction rather than the usual beak-down feeding behavior.

75. Wood Stork by Hiresha Senanayake

A Wood Stork, with a white body and black head, wades in shallow water, its long bill barely touching the still water. Standing on one leg, its pinkish foot is slightly submerged. The marsh grass behind the bird glistens.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/500 second at f/4.0; ISO 100

  • Behind the Shot: After a long hard rain one October morning, I set out to a marsh with three other photographers. As the sun peeked over the horizon, we saw a flock of Wood Storks resting in the shallow waters. We slowly lay on the mud and started crawling on our bellies so that we wouldn’t disturb the birds, inching close enough to photograph them. Though it was extremely challenging to lay in the mud, soaking wet, my entire face covered with gnats, I was still awestruck by the graceful appearance of this threatened, ancient-looking bird. While watching the stork through the viewfinder, I noticed that the grass behind it glowed in the light. At that moment, the stork gave me the perfect pose. I lowered my gear to the muddy ground as much as possible to get an eye-level shot of this entire scene.

76. Eastern Kingbird by Kyle Tansley

An adult Eastern Kingbird in flight passes a dragonfly to a perched fledgling. The adult faces the camera while the fledgling is angled away, with its mouth open and the dragonfly halfway in its mouth, halfway out of the adult’s mouth. The birds are surrounded by blurred greenery.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Colchester Pond, Colchester, Vermont

  • Camera: Nikon Z6 II with a NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at f/4; ISO 250

  • Behind the Shot: I’ve watched a pair of Eastern Kingbirds nest and raise their young at this pond for several years now. Getting a dragonfly delivery shot with a nice foreground and background was a white whale that I could never catch. I followed the family along a row of vegetation down the edge of the pond. The parents took turns feeding their begging fledglings, and I was having trouble keeping up. I spotted one fledgling on a perch on the other side of the hedge and got into position, lining up a shot through the branches. In a couple of seconds, the kingbird had scarfed down the dragonfly and began begging again.

77. Cooper’s Hawk by Deborah Roy

The image shows a Cooper’s Hawk only from the chest down to its feet, focusing on its feet and talons. The hawk is standing on its right leg perched on a branch and facing the camera. Its left leg is stretched outward with talons extended. The image is bathed in spots of a bright yellow glow.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/400 second at f/4; ISO 1000

  • Behind the Shot: I captured this image on a gorgeous fall evening right around sunset. I was sitting in my backyard keeping an eye out for fall migrants. I noticed this beautiful juvenile Cooper’s Hawk roosting in one of my maple trees also keeping an eye on the birds. This frame was taken as the hawk raised its foot to rest on one leg. I chose to crop the image so that the focal point of the image was the feet and talons of the hawk. The warm back-lit glow of the golden leaves of the maple tree really complements the yellow pencil-like legs and feet of this beautiful young hawk.

78. Brown Creeper by Mike Timmons

A Brown Creeper searches the crevices of mottled and scorched bark that fills the frame. The pattern on the bird blends in nearly perfectly with the bark.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Rustler Park, Douglas, Arizona

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/1250 second at f/5.0; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: My brother and I finally made it out for another guys’ trip. As always, this meant birding. We had not been to Arizona together since we were teenagers, and it was fun to relive the nostalgia while building new memories. It was monsoon season in the state, and the swollen creeks kept us from the higher elevations of the Chiricahua Mountains. On our last day there, the road was re-opened. The Red-faced and Olive Warblers had already moved to lower elevations, and it was late in the day, so the birding was pretty slow. We got out of the car to a mixed flock foraging along the road. My attention was drawn to the pair of Brown Creepers, who were busy working the mottled pine bark scorched by fire years prior.

79. Black Skimmer by Elizabeth Sanger

Dozens of Black Skimmers stand packed tightly together on a beach, each facing the camera and the whole filling the frame almost entirely. Their stark black-and-white bodies and bright orange beaks and legs contrast sharply against the white sand.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Marco Island, Florida

  • Camera: Canon EOS 80D with a Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/320 second at f/13; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: Late one afternoon on a windy, cool day I went to the beach in front of my hotel and discovered a flock of Black Skimmers—hundreds of them huddled tightly together, facing the same direction. Occasionally they would take flight en masse, circle the water, and then land again. What made the scene so extraordinary was the sheer number of birds, as well as the striking design created by their black and white bodies contrasting with their bright orange beaks and legs. When viewed in profile, the birds’ colors created one kind of visual pattern, and when viewed head-on, as in this photo, they looked completely different—almost like penguins. I admired the skimmers’ patience, distinct appearance, and apparent camaraderie.

80. Razorbill by Keith Kennedy

A Razorbill floats in the center of the frame, its legs and wings outstretched, looking as though it’s in the middle of a jumping jack. It has a black head, white belly, and black feet and wing tips. The background is blurred gray.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Grimsey Island, Iceland

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens; 1/2500 second at f/6.3; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: On a recent bird photography trip to Iceland, our small group spent five days on Grimsey, a small island off the coast. Puffins and Razorbills nest in underground burrows atop high cliffs that overlook the ocean. The adults forage for sand eels and other small fish and return with their meals dangling from their beaks. I stood on the cliffs hoping to photograph the birds in flight, which is a challenge. Keeping such fast flyers centered in the viewfinder proved the hardest part as they zoomed by. I studied their flight behavior and learned to spot good candidates while panning at just the right speed.

81. Mallard by Hector Cordero

A female Mallard sleeps on the water during a blizzard. Her head is tucked into her feathers and snowflakes pile up on her back.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: New York, New York

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/160 sec at f/5.6; ISO 400

  • Behind the Shot: On the day I took this photograph, the temperature was -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, I spent more than 12 hours photographing the birds in the area. My hands froze and I couldn’t feel my fingers, but I loved the experience of being alone with the animals in nature. In the world of birds, males have bright and flashy colors and tend to be more photographed. Instead, I mainly focused my attention on females. I liked the light to dark brown patterns in this female Mallard’s plumage and the snowflakes that fell over its mottled body.

82. Willet, Sanderling, and Black-bellied Plover by Amiel Hopkins

A Willet, Sanderling, and Black-Bellied Plover stand silhouetted on wet sand that appears wavy, an orange glow coloring the whole frame. Ocean waves appear in the upper left of the frame, slightly blurred and appearing to move. The Willet is furthest to the left in the shot, tall and lanky with a longer bill, while the Sanderling to its right is small and compact, and the plover in the back is blocky and stout.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Cape Point, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/500 second at f/18; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: The Outer Banks are a magical place. An extensive and remote chain of barrier islands, Cape Hatteras is most impressive of all of them, separated from the mainland by a full 30 miles. The sun sank lower and lower over the dunes of the island’s easternmost beach until the landscape bathed in a golden glow. I could see scattered shorebirds roosting for the night among the beach and dunes, but the sun setting in front of me barred me from the typical shot. I changed my settings to capture the birds in silhouette and zoomed out to get them in their environment. I love the look of the dunes and distant crashing waves, making the birds appear like giants towering above an immense landscape.

83. Sandhill Crane by Isabel Guerra Clark

A setting sun colors a river of clouds flowing through the middle of the image. Silhouetted Sandhill Cranes stand in water that reflects red, orange, and purple in the sky, with a hill behind them.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

  • Camera: Canon EOS R6 with a RF24-105mm f/4 lens; 1/250 second at f/8; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: My friend and I drove to Bosque del Apache in November to photograph the annual migration, when thousands of birds arrive for the winter months. The drought had dried out this area significantly and very few ponds existed. Cranes, ducks, and other birds, however, still came by the tens of thousands and did not mind the people who were watching. On our last day at the refuge, we went to one of the ponds that remained and saw a spectacular sunset that I captured in this photograph. The low light required that I use a much higher ISO to have enough shutter speed not to blur the birds.

84. Anna’s Hummingbird by Dominic Wang

A female Anna’s Hummingbird hovers in the mid-air slightly off the ground, her wings outstretched and her head pointed down. In her bill, she holds a piece of green moss above a blanket of moss covering the ground below.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Pleasanton, California

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I noticed this female hummingbird flying low and frequently visiting a moss lawn. It didn’t take long to find her nest. I hoped to photograph the moment when she picked up some nesting materials from the ground, so I found a good spot to lie down on my stomach, set up my exposure to capture the bird in flight, and waited. Shortly after, she flew back to the site, dived to the moss lawn, and picked up a piece with her long beak.

85. Bald Eagle by Liron Gertsman

Six Bald Eagles squabble at the edge of a river. Some are standing on the ground while others are slightly off the ground, their wings outstretched as they jockey for position.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R; 1/1250 second at f/5.6; ISO 6400

  • Behind the Shot: The annual salmon run on the British Columbia coast brings one of my favorite spectacles in nature: a huge gathering of Bald Eagles. Tens of thousands come to the rivers and streams of southwestern British Columbia, where they scavenge on the carcasses of spawned-out salmon. This past winter, heavy rains and flooding likely meant that many of the salmon carcasses were washed downstream. However, as the waters began to recede, I photographed the eagles that gathered in search of food. Spending the morning waiting on the edge of a river in the rain, I was rewarded when an eagle flew down to a salmon carcass washed up in the grass. Before long, several were squabbling over the carcass.⁠

86. Snowy Owl by Dianne Boothe

A white Snowy Owl atop a dune peers through brown and beige beach grass, its yellow eyes looking down at the lens. The bird is partly obscured by the tall grass, a blue sky behind it.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Westhampton, New York

  • Camera: Nikon D500 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens and Tiffen 95mm UV Protector Filter; 1/3200 second and f/6.3; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: Snowy Owls are known to come to the east end of Long Island from November through March. But they often stay in the dunes and can be hard to spot. Though they had been on my bucket list to capture—and I clocked many miles searching—I had never been able to photograph one. Finally, however, on a trip to the shore, I saw one looking at me through the beach grass. I was very grateful: It was my last chance to photograph these beautiful birds before I moved to Florida.

87. White-breasted Nuthatch by Zachary Vaughan

A White-breasted Nuthatch stands on an oak tree trunk, upside down. In its bill is a seed pulled from a cavity in the tree.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Frick Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm F/4 GM OSS lens; 1/250 second at f/4; ISO 1250

  • Behind the Shot: I was walking along one of my favorite trails in the park when I heard the familiar call of a White-breasted Nuthatch. I scanned the area until I noticed it moving down a large oak tree and into a small crevice. I quickly pulled up my camera and began shooting. Apparently I had stumbled onto its secret stash. It quickly pulled out a seed and flew to a higher branch to grab a quick snack. White-breasted Nuthatches are one of my favorite species. Witnessing their quirky behavior and cute mannerisms is a pure treat.

88. Western Screech-Owl by Maximilian Rabbitt-Tomita

 A small, gray Western Screech-Owl peers out of a small cavity in a tree, its patterned face reflecting the pattern of the tree. The owl’s noticeable yellow eyes glare down toward an object below.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Palo Alto, California

  • Camera: Nikon Z5 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens and Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter; 2 seconds at f/7.1; ISO 500

  • Behind the Shot: After setting up my camera facing a Western Screech-Owl’s cavity, I hoped that the bird would come out soon. After all, hiding in the bushes and taking photos in the dark around a few apartment buildings is generally something that I don’t want to be doing for too long. After the sun went down, and after a few weird looks were thrown my way, I was just about to take off when I saw a small shadow moving inside of the cavity. The bird was awake! Luckily, I was able to capture some great shots before the owl took off.

89. Bald Eagle by Jeff Coulter

One Bald Eagle with wings lowered in a powerful thrust holds a pink and grey fish held in its claws. A second eagle flying behind her focuses directly on the fish, his head peeking below the first eagle. The second bird’s wings are raised, giving the two eagles a combined “X” shape that fills the screen.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Syracuse, New York

  • Camera: Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 800mm f/11 IS STM lens; 1/1600 second at f/11; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: Every year, Bald Eagles come to Onondaga Lake in Syracuse. The local water treatment plant keeps a small patch of the lake ice-free, attracting more than 50 Bald Eagles to the surrounding trees. Some eagles catch their own fish while others look for a chance to take an easy meal from an unsuspecting neighbor. I captured this scene as one eagle carried her catch toward the trees, the second following close behind. I remember back in the late 1970s when only one pair of nesting eagles remained in upstate New York. Thanks to ground-breaking conservation efforts, hundreds of pairs now nest here—and the numbers continue to grow. That near-loss and remarkable recovery of this beautiful species continues to make every sighting feel like a gift.

90. Pacific Loon by Joe Gliozzo

 In calm water with almost no ripples, a Pacific Loon looks up to the sky, a stream of water droplets tracing the movement of its beak. With its wings outstretched, it looks as if it’s standing in the water.

  • Category: Professional

  • Location: Anchorage, Alaska

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1250 second at F5.6; ISO 2500

  • Behind the Shot: After traveling from New Jersey to Anchorage in July, I met up with a friend and photographer who treated me to a beautiful few hours at a quiet local lake. We arrived close to 7 p.m., but luckily the sun doesn’t set until after 11 p.m. at that time of year. I saw a pair of Pacific Loons who had the entire lake to themselves. Not for a minute did I mind lying down on the damp water’s edge. Nor did I mind the nasty mosquitoes that stung our flesh. The loons stayed at a distance at first but made their way closer to us as the light eventually faded to night.

91. Black-capped Chickadee by Steven Robbins

A Black-capped Chickadee sits on an evergreen branch, perfectly centered in the frame. It is surrounded by branches, creating a blurred background of tan.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton, Wisconsin

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/6.3; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: Black-capped Chickadees can be challenging to photograph since they usually don’t sit still for long. Most of the time, when I spot one, I keep on walking to see what else is around. But on this day, the early morning light and background really caught my eye, so I paused to take a few photos. Luckily for me, the chickadee decided to stop just long enough for me to capture this image.

92. Pacific Golden-Plover by Elliott Bury

The head and upper body of a Pacific Golden-Plover fills the upper right-hand side of the photo. The left side of the photo shows a few weeds glowing as the golden sunlight shines through them. Only the stubby bill and black mottling on the top of the bird’s head, with some detail from the grass, are in focus.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Poipu Beach Park, Kauaʻi, Hawai’i

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R IV with a Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/6.3; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: I found this plover resting in the sand next to a busy parking lot. Since most of the birds in Kauaʻi are used to people, it wasn’t disturbed when I quietly laid on the hot sand nearby. Behind me, traffic streamed on a busy road. To my right, cars and people came and went. To my left, dozens of beachgoers played in the sand. In front of me, people visited a public restroom and sat at picnic tables. I felt overwhelmed by the noise and movement and wondered if the plover felt the same. Yet after a few minutes, everything melted away, leaving just me and a beautiful bird in glowing golden light.

93. Red-tailed Hawk by Ryan Murphy

A Red-tailed Hawk shakes off water droplets after a downpour. Blurred beige reeds and plants surround the closeup of her face and hunched shoulders. She has a sharp stare into the distance.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Ridgefield, Washington

  • Camera: Sony Alpha a9 II with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

  • Behind the Shot: You’re not allowed to leave your car at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge; instead, you slowly drive around the refuge on a gravel road as the local wildlife go about its business. The skies were clearing after a heavy downpour when I saw a Red-tailed Hawk perched in the middle of a field. She was shaking off the droplets like a dog after a swim and appeared more concerned with getting dry than with the long lens sticking out of the driver’s side window. If you look closely, you can still see water clinging to her brow. I had a chuckle imagining the hawk was annoyed that she let herself get so wet.

94. Greater Sage-Grouse by Noah Brinkman

A male Greater Sage-Grouse faces the camera, its body slightly obscured by orange-tinged mist colored by the rising sun. The bird’s fanned tail and feathers puff up around his body.

  • Category: Youth

  • Location: Jackson County, Colorado

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 1600

  • Behind the Shot: For the past few years, I have thought that the perfect birthday would start with an early morning at a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. I have an early March birthday, and the lek at that time of year is typically unproductive, with just a few males half-heartedly displaying. Still, I convinced my dad to drive me out as a birthday present. We arrived well before sunrise and discovered three feeding males. I snuck out of the car and laid down on the road to get eye-level shots when the rising sun peeked out from behind the clouds, providing me with stunning golden backlighting as this male displayed. Though my hands nearly froze, I still look back on that day very fondly.

95. American White Pelican by April Stampe

A group of American White Pelicans surround a pelican holding a fish in its open beak, the black fish tail peeking out of the bird’s enlarged throat pouch. The other birds’ orange and yellow bills are bright against foam in the water.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Lockport, Manitoba, Canada

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 7R III with a Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens and 1.4x teleconverter; 1/2500 at f/8; ISO 320

  • Behind the Shot: A quick drive to a local dam proved worth it when I noticed a large group of pelicans actively fishing. I watched them move as a group, seemingly working together to catch the fish swimming below them. When a fish was caught, however, it became every pelican for itself. The pelicans fought to steal the fish right out of each other’s bills—this struggle resulting in the fish getting away about half of the time. Immediately afterward, the birds would regroup and begin hunting together again. Despite going back multiple times, I never got another opportunity quite like this one.

96. Wood Stork by Melissa Rowell

A Wood Stork, mostly white with a wrinkly, bald head, and long, thick bill, is partially hidden by the sand mounded in front of him. Green and brown plants are slightly out of focus in the right side of the image.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Hilton Head, South Carolina

  • Camera: Nikon D850 with a NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR lens; 1/400 second at f/7.1; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: On a bitterly cold and windy morning, I considered staying in bed where I was nice and cozy. But I was only staying a week in Hilton Head, so I hopped out of bed. It was low tide, and there was not a bird or human in sight. I pulled up my hood as sand pelted me. I then spotted a lone Wood Stork hunkered down in some vegetation, partially obscured by a dune, just as the rising sun began to peek through clouds. He had an almost ethereal look. I immediately dropped to my knees, hoping I wouldn’t scare him off. When I slowly backed away, I was so grateful for the miracles that nature has in store for us—if we just take the time to look.

97. Pyrrhuloxia by Danny Hancock

A gray-bodied Pyrrhuloxia with a red-rimmed eye and red-tipped mohawk perches among branches. One eye is visible through two branches in front and blue background blurred, and there is a shadow of the branch vertically across its head.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

  • Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III; 1/1250 second at f/8.0; ISO 800

  • Behind the Shot: This beautiful female Pyrrhuloxia waited patiently at a feeder while a mob of Red-winged Blackbirds devoured the food. I moved slowly to my left so I could focus on her eye between the branches. Eventually, she caught a break and snuck in to quickly snap up some seed.

98. Northern Shoveler by Christy Grinton

One eye of a Northern Shoveler peeks out from behind his feathers. The bird’s iridescent green and blue head contrast the band of brown feathers directly below, white, and orange bands below that.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Delta, British Columbia

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm F/4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens; 1/1000 second at f/10; ISO 4000

  • Behind the Shot: Every winter, I take the ferry to Delta on the mainland to visit the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. It is a wonderful park where countless migratory birds stop and overwinter. You never know what you will see when you go. The day I went, I was hoping to find Sandhill Cranes. Instead, I saw a large number of Northern Shovelers. That day the ducks were resting and not bothered by the people walking by. I kneeled to get a photo and the duck opened his eye to see what I was doing, making for a wonderful shot. It wasn’t until I got home and processed the image that I noticed how the color of the eye matched the colors of the bottom feathers.

99. Bufflehead by Garrett Yarter

A male Bufflehead sits in still water, his head tilted upwards. Water droplets fall from his bill, and his body is reflected in the water. Purple and yellow shades are blurred in the background.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Budd Inlet, Olympia, Washington

  • Camera: Nikon D5600 with a Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

  • Behind the Shot: As I walked along the shore of the beautiful Puget Sound, I watched the local Buffleheads socialize, preen, and splash around in the water. A few of them dipped their bills slightly into the water and then rapidly raised their heads, causing a little splash. Over the next two hours I waited to photograph this behavior. To get into position, I had to lie down on a quite smelly saltwater bank. After finally obtaining the desired image, I was delighted to notice that the coloration of the bank on the opposite side of the inlet complemented the iridescence of the Bufflehead’s face.

100. Common Murre by Lauren Bunker

A single incoming Common Murre hovers in flight, its wings outstretched and legs extended like landing gear as it descends over a crowded colony. The other birds stand on the cliffs of a rocky island, storm clouds darkening the scene.

  • Category: Amateur

  • Location: Gull Island, Kachemak Bay, Alaska

  • Camera: Sony Alpha 9 with a Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/1250 second at f/6.3; ISO 640

  • Behind the Shot: On our first visit to Homer, Alaska, in September 2021, rough incoming weather and swells on Kachemak Bay nearly canceled a birding tour for me and my mom. After assuring the captain that we had taken anti-nausea tablets and would keep three points of contact with the boat at all times, we set out for Gull Island. Crossing the bay was quite the ride, but we managed to keep our breakfasts down. We were rewarded with time observing a hectic colony of Common Murres.

By OngkyF