20 Best Bird Photos Of The Year: A Peek At Audubon's Top 100 Winners

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

A fuzzy, mottled Black-necked Stilt chick stands beneath its mother, which has a white underbelly … [+] and stabilizes the fuzzy chick with one long pink leg.. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine, CA Photo: Jack Zhi – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Spectacular, artistic and playful, these photos feature avian life at its most vivid, vulnerable and formidable.

Along with the winners of its Photography Awards competition, the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit dedicated to bird conservation, selects 100 additional shots to share every year.

The Top 100 images depicting bird life from across the United States and Canada were chosen from more than 9,000 entries to its 12th annual Audubon Photography Awards.

The photo competition is open to professional and amateur photographers.

MORE FROM FORBESIn Pictures: 12 Amazing Birds Winners Of 2021 Audubon Photography AwardsBy Cecilia Rodriguez

“There are intimate portraits that reveal exquisite details, action shots that capture powerful raptors on the hunt and arresting images that celebrate a wide array of bird behavior,” Audubon explains.

“So settle in and prepare to be enchanted with the beauty and variety of birdlife and impressed by the resourcefulness of bird photographers.”

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Common Loon, Cariboo Region, British Columbia, Canada Photo: Sue Dougherty – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Strings of tiny water droplets form lines across a Common Loon’s face from its beak to the back of its head.

It was one of a couple of Common Loons diving for leeches to feed their chick. Within a couple of days, they were bringing back fingerling trout.

Absolutely perfect strings of water beads in hydrodynamic lines would light for a few moments on their feathers shortly after they surfaced from a dive.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Sanderlings, Refuge Beach, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Newbury, Massachussetts Nadia Haq – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A flock of mostly white Sanderlings scampering on the shore looking for food, run toward the beach to avoid an oncoming wave. The birds’ black bills and legs stand out against the mottled gray waves behind them and the sandy shore in front.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Roseate Spoonbill, Fellsmere, Florida Photo: Scott Suriano – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A pink Roseate Spoonbill flies across the sky, its fuchsia shoulders and red eye popping against a sky filled with lavender, pink, and gray clouds. With its long neck stretched forward, its wings reaching down, and its legs stretched out behind it, the magnificent wader appears to be suspended in the air.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Great Egrets, Xiangshan Forest Park, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China Photo: :Xianwei Zeng – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Great Egret parents stand in a nest made of sticks, wispy feathers coming off their backs and their necks crisscrossing as they bend low to feed three fuzzy chicks.

Hundreds of Great Egrets return each year to eastern China’s Xiangshan Forest Park in early spring to breed, building their nests high in fir trees. The rivers and lakes nearby provide abundant fish to feed the birds and their chicks

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico Photo: Megan Bonham – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Five Sandhill Cranes, silhouettes in the light blue and yellow of sunset, make the formation of a pyramid in a sky lined with wispy clouds.

When Sandhill Cranes prepare to land, their outstretched wings and necks appear elegant as they glide through the air while their awkward, dangling legs add comedic value.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Mountain Bluebird, Warm Springs Road near Goshen, Utah Photo: Eric Peterson – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

On a cold and foggy February morning, a Mountain Bluebird tosses a cream-colored berry, captured suspended in the air just before entering its wide open mouth. The bird was one of a small flock feasting on Russian olive berries.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Great Blue Heron, Romeo, Michigan Photo: Chris Schlaf – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Its feet still touching a rock on which it stands, a Great Blue Heron, ready to catch his breakfast, leans so far over the water of a pond that it looks like it might fall over.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Allen’s Hummingbird, Los Angeles Photo: Eric J. Smith – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

An Allen’s Hummingbird looks up, its brown neck feathers like striated scallops that lead up to the beak on which a tiny fig wasp rests. The hummingbird appears to be examining its hitchhiker.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Resplendent Quetzal, Savegre, Costa Rica Photo: Aaron Baggenstos – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A male Resplendent Quetzal in Costa Rica approaches a tree trunk with a blackberry in his beak.

The photographer has been photographing quetzals for many years in conjunction with a conservation program that pays local farmers to plant and protect native trees essential for the bird’s survival.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Wood Duck, Sacajawea Park, Livingston, Montana Photo: Steve Hinch – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A Wood Duck hen opens her wings to the camera, their tips just beyond the frame. Her fine head feathers giving the appearance of a halo.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico Photo: Linda Muth – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese take to the air in unison. While the species are indistinguishable at this distance, Ross’s are smaller and have shorter necks and stubbier bills. Circling low overhead, countless snow-white bodies with black wingtips look like confetti in the sky.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Violet-green Swallow, Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone, Montana Photo: :Steve Hinch/ – udubon Photography Awards/2021

A white-faced swallow perches on a white-branched tree, its back to the camera. The vibrant green feathers on the top of its head and shoulders look like a cape.

A massive mixed flock of Tree, Northern Rough-winged, Cliff, and Violet-green Swallows flew out over the lake and sagebrush catching insects. Eventually this Violet-green Swallow stopped for a rest.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Wood Ducks, Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Photo: Kevin Sim – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Three identical-looking ducklings swim directly toward the camera, perfectly aligned from front to back.

“I saw a dozen Wood Duck ducklings on top of a concrete island,” says the photographer. “One by one, each bird bravely jumped in and started swimming directly toward me in perfect alignment.”

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Lesser Yellowlegs, Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary, Port Bolivar, Texas Photo: Tim Timmis – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Two Lesser Yellowlegs run side by side on a beach. Their bodies nearly appear as one bird with four long, brightly colored legs and an open black bill.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Double-crested Cormorants, Union Bay Natural Area, Seattle Photo: Blake Bryant – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Six Double-crested Cormorants perch on exposed logs over the water, their silhouettes enhanced by the golden light.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Red-winged Blackbird, Imperial Valley, California Photo: Michael Schulte – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A male Red-winged Blackbird sits atop an aloe bloom in a vibrant field of yellow blooming aloe field and sings.

“Dozens of male Red-winged Blackbirds jockeyed for display positions in a dizzying bounce of red on black on yellow,” the photographer explains. “This particular male was bolder than the others and fought to maintain his high perch. His ability to fight off competing males to secure insect-rich territory likely won him multiple mates.”

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Purple Gallinule, Lake Tohopekaliga, Kissimmee, Florida Photo: orey Raffel – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

A Purple Gallinule looks as if it’s running across the water’s surface with its wings outstretched to its rear, its iridescent purple head and neck parallel to the water, craning forward as if crossing a finish line.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, Bosque Del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico Photo: Marti Phillips – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Thousands of Snow Geese fill a purple-and-blue sky at sunset. The white of their wings reflects the fading light as underneath them Sandhill Cranes stand like sentinels in the brown grasses of a wetland.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

A Kori-bustard bird showing its plumage Photo: Aaron Baggenstos – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Standing erect in a field of tall brown grass, a male Kori Bustard sticks out the large white feathers under his tail. The striped white-and-black feathers around his neck make it look like he’s wearing a featherboa below his black head.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

Black Skimmers, St. Petersburg, Florida Photo: Douglas DeFelice – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

Small waves roll behind three Black Skimmers as they fly directly in line with one another and the lens. Their bodies seem to blend almost as one with five black wings and two white heads and orange beaks grazing the water.

Photography Awards competition, Top 100, Audubon Photography Awards,  professional and amateur photographers

American Goldfinch, McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area, Poolesville, Maryland Jules Jacobs – Audubon Photography Awards/2021

In a sea of sunflowers, a brilliant yellow American Goldfinch perches atop a sunflower of exactly the same hue, the bird’s distinctive black cap and wings preventing it from being entirely camouflaged. The lone bird bounced from flower to flower and perched behind the petals, its yellow feathers blending in seamlessly with the blooms.

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