This year’s winners of the annual Audubon Photography Awards are an irresistible spectacle of the wonders of avian life.
The annual competition marking its 13th year and organized by the Audubon Society, a nonprofit dedicated to bird conservation, is open to professional and amateur photographers from the United States and Canada.
The judges awarded eight prizes across five categories from a pool of some 2,500 photographers and videographers who submitted nearly 10,000 entries showing the beauty of birds and the joy of capturing them in their environments.
“From the bold action of a raptor to the subtlest detail in the feather patterns of ptarmigan, take a moment to revel in what you might otherwise miss,” Audubon recommends.
“With their stunning looks and captivating behavior, birds often enthrall us when they cross our path. Many people spend hours or years seeking them out. But just as often, we stumble upon unique moments in a stroke of luck. Sometimes all it takes is simply stopping to appreciate an everyday scene with fresh eyes.”
Threatened by extinction
Audubon’s climate science report, Survival by Degrees, reveals that two-thirds of North American birds are threatened by extinction from climate change, including species featured in the Audubon Photography Awards.
Award winners and honorable mentions will be featured in the Summer 2022 issue of Audubon magazine. The photos also will travel the country as part of an Audubon Photography Awards exhibit in which they will be on display at 28 venues in 19 states between October 2022 and June 2023.
The Grand Prize winner takes a $5,000 prize, while each the category winner receives $2,500.
The Overall Winner was White-tailed Kite taken by photographer Jack Zhi in Costa Mesa, California, and showing two white-tailed kites flying with a vole (a mouse-like rodent) as the father teaches his fledglings to hunt. The fledgling flew in and, in a blink, grabbed the rodent as the father let go.
Graceful grassland fliers of North and South America, White-tailed Kites feed mainly on mice, voles, and other small mammals. This bird does almost all its hunting by hovering in one spot, intently scanning the ground below and then rapidly pouncing. This technique requires great dexterity in flight, and adult White-tailed Kites may devote several weeks to training young who have left the nest.
A Western Grebe’s red eyes stare as its two chicks riding on its back each grab at a silver fish in its beak. A male had arrived with a fish and passed it to the mom as one chick got hold of the fish while the second bit the other end. They tugged, back and forth, until the second chick won.
Western Grebes hatch from eggs in nests that float on the water’s surface. Within minutes of emerging, the baby grebes scramble onto the back of their attending parent; the adult grebe soon swims away carrying them, becoming in effect a new living, floating nest.
For up to four weeks, the male and female adults take turns at parental duties, one toting the young while the other hunts for food to bring them.
The larger bird groomed its mate’s head feathers as it clicked, gurgled, cawed and shrieked in what seemed like a a display of sheer affection.
Belonging to the same family as jays and crows, the Common Raven is classified as a songbird — the largest in the world.
It’s also among the smartest of birds. Adults form long-term monogamous pairs, and pairs stay together year-round, seeming to communicate with each other by using a wide variety of calls and nonvocal signals.
A White-tailed Ptarmigan sits atop a rock overlooking mountains and a valley in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. This elusive bird, also known as “mountain chicken,” thrives year-round in harsh conditions of the Arctic and high mountains where few birds can survive.
They feed on buds, leaves, and twigs of willows and other shrubby tundra plants, seeking windswept spots where stems extend above the snow. Their thick plumage provides superb insulation as well as camouflage, changing with the seasons. They even grow snowshoes: Thick feathers develop on their feet in winter, helping them walk across the snow’s surface.
Sharp-tailed Grouse males gather in impressive numbers at a “lek” — sometimes 50 or more — to perform courtship displays for females. The birds arrive in darkness and dance and display throughout the morning. These birds are notoriously flighty and sensitive to disturbances.
Mating success doesn’t go just to those with the most alluring moves; position on the lek is important, with most females gravitating to males holding the prime spots at the center. As a result, competition for those central locations is intense and the dancing is often interrupted by violent fights.
A Nashville Warbler snatches a tiny snail from the seed-heads of a scarlet bee balm.
The Nashville Warbler’s name reflects an era when bird migration was poorly understood. In 1810, ornithologist Alexander Wilson journeyed west. He discovered three warbler species new to science and named them for places where he saw them. The Kentucky Warbler does nest in Kentucky but the Tennessee and Nashville Warblers were only traveling to forests of the far north.
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.
Hawaii once served as home to nearly 40 species of honeycreepers, a distinct group of finches unique to these islands. Almost half are now extinct and most remaining species are endangered.
A Greater Sage-Grouse hen pausing between snow-draped shrubs with her calm eyes and intricately-patterned plumage seems unbothered by the low temperature. These hardy birds live year-round in this harsh environment and yet a species this tough is endangered by many threats.
Few birds are so tightly linked to a particular plant as the Greater Sage-Grouse is to sagebrush. This big bird, America’s largest native grouse, is found almost entirely in habitats dominated by various species of sagebrush. It builds its nest beneath these plants, rests in their shade on hot days, and consumes their buds, leaves, flowers, and stems, with sage leaves making up the majority of its winter shelter.
Northern Shoveler ducks feed in a pond, their bodies covering the water’s surface and their heads down in the water.
The Northern Shoveler often feeds in tightly-packed groups. Fine comb-like structures inside its oversized bill allow it to strain tiny items from the water, which explains why it swims with its bill submerged, sifting out crustaceans, insects, seeds, and other edibles.
A pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks sitting on a hollowed-out palm. “One looked as if it had simply fallen in,” Preussn explained. “The other peered down the trunk, seemingly thinking: ‘What an idiot’.”
Whistling ducks, also known as ‘tree ducks’ make up a highly-distinctive group of lanky, long-legged, long-necked waterfowl. Unlike typical ducks, males and females look the same and both sexes incubate eggs and tend to young, usually nesting in holes in trees or nest boxes provided by human admirers.
For their spring courtship, Greater Prairie-Chicken males inflate their vocal sacs to make deep, booming calls, dance about like wind-up toys and fight other males to defend their territories.
On spring mornings a few centuries ago, prairies of the North American interior echoed with a deep, low, moaning sound that pulsed across the landscape. This was the “booming” of male Greater Prairie-Chickens coming together at their ancestral display grounds to posture and dance in a bid to attract females.
The sound from a large booming ground could carry more than two miles across the grasslands. Prairie-chickens still gather at isolated sites across several states, but their numbers today barely hint at their former abundance.