From the smallest details to the biggest designs, this year’s winners of the Audubon Photography Prize, chosen from 8,770 images and 261 videos entered, offer an irresistible spectacle of the marvels of avian life.
The annual competition hosted by the Audubon Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to bird conservation, is open to professional and amateur photographers from the United States and Canada.
The 2021 competition, now in its 12th year, features a new category of videos and for the first time, the Female Bird Prize is awarded to draw attention to female birds, which are often overlooked and underestimated at both in bird photography and conservation.
The winning photos and videos will be featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Audubon magazine and in a virtual Audubon Photography Awards exhibition.
“As these photos and videos enchant people with the beauty of birds, two-thirds of North America’s birds are threatened with extinction due to climate change,” says Audubon’s 2019 Climate Science Report, warn the organizers.
The 2021 Grand Prix was won by Carolina Fraser for her photo of a great roadrunner, member of the cuckoo family (below), taking a dust bath in Cotulla, Texas.
In the midst of an evening dust bath, a Grand Roadrunner stands proudly, backlit by the sun. A brilliant golden light exposes the white-tipped tail feathers which contrast with the fluffy feathers that unfurl on its sides. Dust from a recent roller in the dirt lingers in the air.
An emblematic bird of the American Southwest, it is particularly suitable for living on the ground in dry regions. It can travel considerable distances at 20 miles per hour and draw the moisture it needs from lizards, rodents, and other prey.
When water is available, he drinks readily, but rarely, if ever, uses water for bathing.
Instead, frequent dustbathing is the rule, as is sunbathing on cool mornings.
A red-tailed hawk holds an open-mouthed chipmunk in its yellow talons, the rodent’s head and front legs emerging from a snowy perch. The raptor’s head leans towards its prey the chipmunk, a piece of fur in its sharp blue beak.
The most common of the gliding hawks in North America, the Red-tail also has the most widespread diet: it hunts all available prey among squirrels or rats in city parks, snakes in desert regions or hares on mugwort platters.
Chipmunks are common prey in some places. Although they only provide a small meal, they are relatively easy to capture.
A male red cardinal appears to float above the snowy ground, the crest feathers on his head blow backwards in the wind as he flies in profile past stems of gray plants. The bird’s three wing feathers touch the snow-white carpet, its shadow connecting below.
Beak sunk into a partially open yellow flower emerging from the water, a female Gray-winged Blackbird balances on a water lily, her wings partially outstretched, revealing the touch of red on her shoulders.
While male Red-winged Blackbirds gathered dragonflies in the air to feed their young, females hopped from lily pad to lily pad, looking for insects inside the yellow and white flowers. Sticking its beak into the closed flower, it then opens its beak wide to spread the flower, exposing the insects lurking inside.
In summer, the North American marshes come alive with the Red-winged Blackbird. Males are notable when they sing and defend territories, while females with more cryptic colors do most of the actual work of rearing the young.
Atop a rocky cliff littered with feathers from past slaughter, a peregrine falcon stands with a red-crested acorn woodpecker in its bloody talons. The tan and dark gray hawk holds a feather in its beak while two other feathers, black at the top and white with bloodstains at the bottom, cross in the air.
Masters of the air, peregrine falcons are capable of capturing virtually any bird, from swift thieves such as swifts to larger geese. Peregrine falcons are best known for their spectacular dives from great heights, diving at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour to strike prey in the air.
But they have other hunting methods. These hawks are likely to capture a bird such as a woodpecker in a short, powerful burst of level flight.
A female Northern Harrier flies over a wetland, her large wings erect above her head, Her long tail striped with white and brown spreads out like a fan.
Northern harriers hunt by hovering low over marshes and open fields, observing and listening to their prey. When slender raptors detect a small mammal or bird, they abruptly turn around, hover briefly, and then fall.
Even an experienced adult can only capture successfully about a third of the time. Young harriers like this juvenile, identifiable as a female by her brown eyes, may have a much lower success rate at first, but their skills improve with practice.
More than a dozen purple flowers on a Pride of Madeira plant obscure everything but a fuzzy wing and an eye of an Anna’s hummingbird. The hummingbird faces the viewer with its eye clearly visible between two flowers, appearing to make eye contact with the photographer.
Hummingbirds are often described as preferring to feed on red tubular flowers. While many of these flowers have evolved specifically to be pollinated by hummingbirds, that doesn’t mean birds ignore other species.
Anna’s hummingbirds must adapt to all available flowers. They quickly learn which flowers are providing nectar at any given time and will focus on those, regardless of their color or shape.
Hovering in a strong wind, a red-tailed hawk appears to be suspended in the air with outstretched wings as it tilts its head to the side to search for prey on the ground.
The Red-tailed Hawk most often hunts from a raised perch, as flying low enough to search for prey usually requires more flapping and more energy. Sometimes the windy conditions are such that they can stand still, barely moving their wings, resting in the air as they study the ground below.
The brown, cylindrical top of a cattail soars as a green Anna’s Hummingbird, half its size, pulls out fibers from the seeds, their down extending from its beak to the top of the plant.
Hummingbird nests are amazing structures: tiny, strong but flexible, able to stretch out as the chicks grow. To build them, females must search for nature’s most delicate materials – cobwebs and plants among them – to build felted walls.
When cattail heads begin to disintegrate to disperse their seeds in the wind, they are a perfect source for the type of light down that hummingbirds need.
On a wet rocky shore, a purple sandpiper sits with its beak tucked under its brown and gray wing, the blurred blue waves of the ocean in the background.
No other member of the sandpiper family has such a northern range throughout the year as the purple sandpiper. These tough birds thrive in the harshest conditions. From their arctic breeding grounds, they drift south in late fall to places where icy ocean waves crash violently on coastal rocks.
Sandpipers are perfectly at home in this hectic scene, climbing about to search for tiny crustaceans and even sleeping peacefully among the rocks.
On a still wetland with green grasses and brown reeds in the background, a Canada Goose soars out of the water, wings outstretched and beak gaping while another Canada Goose, wings folded out 90 degrees, honk back.
Canada Geese can be very aggressive, and their instinct to defend their territory is intense during the breeding season, when pairs actively hunt their own as well as other large intruders.
Snow is falling gently on a wintry gray landscape with a great gray owl perched on a thin branch. The owl slowly turns its head, revealing piercing yellow eyes and a bloody beak. Snow has accumulated on her face as she surveys her surroundings. The owl slowly spreads its wings and flies away silently.
Winter conditions don’t seem to bother the Grand Gray, the largest owl in North America. Feathers make up a large part of its apparent bulk, and its thick plumage allows it to thrive in sub-zero weather. It will dive 18 inches in snowdrifts to catch mice and other prey, its thin ears detect movement under deep snow.