A fledgling raptor learning to hunt. Grouse aiming to impress. Two grebes vying for a meal. This year’s winners caught amazing moments.
Species: White-tailed Kite
Location: Costa Mesa, California
Camera: Sony a9ii with Sony 600mm f/4.0 lens with a Sony FE 2x Teleconverter; 1/3200 second at f/8; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: I studied White-tailed Kite behavior for three years before I got this close-up. It was a challenge to get the action, distance, lighting, and angles of the individuals all right at the same time. The father, who teaches his fledglings to hunt, held a vole in his talons. The fledgling flew in and, in a blink, grabbed the rodent as the father let go. Wildlife does spectacular things—people walk by without even knowing. My passion is to capture that beauty and behavior and share it with people who don’t have the time to see it in nature.
Amateur Award Winner: Peter Shen
Species: Western Grebe
Location: Calero Reservoir, San Jose, California
Camera: Sony A1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 lens with a Sony 1.4x Teleconverter; 1/1000 second at f/7.1; ISO 500
Story Behind the Shot: I was hiking on a narrow, rocky trail when I saw a Western Grebe with two chicks on her back. I unpacked my gear and knelt at the shore’s edge. A male arrived with a fish and passed it to the mom, who turned to face me and made eye contact. I quickly laid flat on the gravel, bird droppings all around, but I didn’t care. My heart pounded. One chick got hold of the fish, but the second bit onto the other end. They tugged, back and forth, until the second chick won. The rivalry brought back happy memories of my siblings, our mom in the middle.
Professional Award Winner: Liron Gertsman
Species: White-tailed Ptarmigan
Location: Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 100
Story Behind the Shot: I’ve spent countless hikes searching for the elusive “mountain chicken,” also known as the White-tailed Ptarmigan, to no avail. On this day, after a couple of hours, I stumbled right onto some. The small group was so well camouflaged I didn’t notice it until movement caught my eye. Wanting to capture these remarkable birds in the context of their domain, I put on a wider lens and sat down. They continued to forage at close range, and I captured this image of an individual posing in front of the stunning mountains.
Plants for Birds Award Winner: Shirley Donald
Species: Nashville Warbler
Location: Blue Sea, Quebec, Canada
Camera: Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO II USM lens and a Canon 1.4x Teleconverter III; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 1000
Story Behind the Shot: I planted a scarlet bee balm beneath my office window. Over several years it spread, the mass of flowers blooming midsummer in time to feed juvenile hummingbirds. Once the flowers are spent, the seedheads shelter insects and attract snails. Birds inspect them and feast off their finds. With my camera on a tripod, lens poking through a hole in the mesh I use to screen my open window, I’m ready for any opportunity—such as this warbler snatching a tiny snail.
Fisher Prize: Steve Jessmore
Species: Northern Shoveler
Location: Muskegon County Wastewater Management System, Muskegon County, Michigan
Camera: Sony Alpha 1 mirrorless camera with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and a ProMaster carbon monopod; 1/1000 second at f/11; ISO 2000
Story Behind the Shot: The whipping wind and bitter cold on a dreary winter Michigan morning made it hard to stand and keep my lens steady. Huddled behind my Subaru, I noticed groups of Northern Shovelers feeding and was drawn to the swirling motion as they circled, the groups growing and shrinking. I tried to fill my frame with ducks, their bodies covering the water’s surface and heads down in water. Almost two hours into shooting, a drake rose from the center and spread his wings. With his green head, shovel-shaped bill, yellow eyes, and striking sky-blue panels, he looked statuesque for a second or two before dropping back to feed.
Youth Honorable Mention: Amiel Hopkins:
Species: Greater Prairie-Chicken
Location: Fort Pierre National Grassland, Fort Pierre, South Dakota
Camera: Nikon D3500 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED lens; 1/800 second at f/7.1; ISO 320
Story Behind the Shot: I spent the night in a freezing, cramped blind so I could be in position by dawn to photograph Greater Prairie-Chicken spring courtship displays. Males inflate vocal sacs, make deep, booming calls, dance about like wind-up toys, and fight other males to defend their territories. That morning one bird flew onto my blind and began to dance, its feet making loud, clacking noises on the tin roof. When another came within arm’s reach, I captured its intricate and beautiful feather pattern as it emitted a loud cackling cry. At that distance, the bird would pick up any movement and flush, so I remained still. Thankfully, it never noticed me.
Amateur Honorable Mention: Ankur Khurana
Species: Common Raven
Location: Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/250 second at f/5.6; ISO 4000
Story Behind the Shot: My partner and I came upon this couple on the last day of 2021 as we plowed through heavy snow in cold that settled into our bones. The larger raven groomed its mate’s head feathers as it clicked, gurgled, cawed, and shrieked. While ravens are common here, I could not miss photographing this intimate interaction. My hands numb, I pulled my camera out and clicked several shots. As we walked away, the ravens continued to indulge in playful displays on the ground and in flight. We’d seen ravens, and proof of their obvious intelligence, hundreds of times, but this raven encounter is one that will be hard to beat.
Female Bird Prize: Alan Krakauer
Species: Greater Sage-Grouse
Location: Fremont County, Wyoming
Camera: Canon EOS 6D with a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 lens and a UV filter; 1/1600 second at f/8; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: It had been several frigid hours since I had climbed into a blind in a remote valley, arriving before first light to avoid disturbing a Greater Sage-Grouse lek. While I was usually pointing my camera at fighting and strutting males, this photograph of a hen pausing between snow-draped shrubs became my favorite. With her calm eyes and intricately patterned plumage, the female almost took my frosty breath away. While I huddled in my bulky coat and two pairs of long underwear, the grouse seemed unbothered by the temperature. I am amazed at how these hardy birds live year-round in this harsh environment, and yet a species this tough is imperiled by so many threats to its existence.
Youth Award Winner: Jayden Preussner
Species: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Location: Farm 13/Stick Marsh, Indian River County, Florida
Camera: Nikon D850 with a Nikon AFS NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED lens; 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 2800
Story Behind the Shot: I set out along a dike and levee system that puts you at eye level with trees and saw a pair of Black bellied Whistling-Ducks sitting on a hollowed out palm. Before I knew it, one looked as if it had simply fallen in. The other peered down the trunk, seemingly thinking, “What an idiot.” My friend and I burst out laughing. The scene was silly, but now I look back and think: That was a nice shot of the birds interacting with their environment. Showcasing those relationships is important to me.
Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Warren Johnson
Species: Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi
Location: Haleakalā National Park, Maui, Hawai‘i
Camera: Nikon D500 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/1000 second at f/6.3; ISO 720
Story Behind the Shot: After heavy December rains, native trees flowered and Hawaiian honeycreepers, in turn, began breeding. This Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi was a regular visitor to an ‘iliahi, also known as sandalwood. Their interaction illustrates an interdependent relationship that coevolved over millennia. To me, the scene alludes to how much Hawaiian avifauna and flora have been lost—a moment that was once common has become relatively rare. I was so focused on the bird that I didn’t see the bee below it when I snapped the shot.
Professional Honorable Mention: Liron Gertsman
Species: Sharp-tailed Grouse
Location: Thompson-Nicola, 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 to RF mount adapter; 1/6400 at f/5.6; ISO 800
Story Behind the Shot: One of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in nature is a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, where males gather to perform courtship displays for females. The birds arrive in darkness and dance and display through the morning. These birds are notoriously flighty and sensitive to disturbance, so to observe them respectfully, I scouted a location the afternoon prior. Waking up at 3 a.m., I hiked for 45 minutes to reach my hide outside the lek’s perimeter. At first light, the show began. Each male on the lek defended his small territory and fights regularly broke out. This shot was one of thousands I took that morning.
Special thanks to The Audubon Society for sponsoring this amazing photo contest, and providing these photos for all to see and learn from.