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The 2024 Audubon Photography Awards: Winners and Honorable Mentions

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Birds evolved over millions of years to thrive in specific habitats, yet they’re also remarkably adaptable. Many live in our cities and alongside our infrastructure and readily spread to unfamiliar terrain. The Birds in Landscapes Prize, a new category in this year’s Audubon Photography Awards, celebrates the beauty of birds in the broader context of both natural and developed surroundings. Its winner, an image of the globe-trotting California Quail in its preferred scrubby turf, is a stunner—as are all the photos and videos that follow.

This year, our judges, looking at anonymous entries, reviewed more than 8,500 submissions. Each year it seems to get harder for them to pick their favorites. Fortunately, you can sit back and enjoy the results. 

The 2024 Judges 

Amateur, Professional, Youth, Grand, Plants for Birds, Fisher, and Birds in Landscapes Prizes

Sabine Meyer, photography director, National Audubon Society
Lucas Bustamante, environmental photojournalist and biologist
Preeti Desai, senior director of social media & storytelling, National Audubon Society
Daniel Dietrich, wildlife photographer, filmmaker and cinematographer
Morgan Heim, conservation photographer, filmmaker and adventurer
Noppadol Paothong, nature/conservation photographer
John Rowden, conservation consultant and native plants expert 

Video Prize

Mike Fernandez, video producer, National Audubon Society
Rina Miele, wildlife photographer and videographer
Mick Thompson, wildlife photographer and videographer

Female Bird Prize

Alyssa Bueno, wildlife photographer, Feminist Bird Club
Founders of the Galbatross Project: Brooke Bateman, Stephanie Beilke, Martha Harbison, Joanna Wu

Judging criteria: technical quality, originality, artistic merit

Grand Prize: Mathew Malwitz

Category: AmateurSpecies: Blackburnian WarblerLocation: Promised Land State Park, Greentown, PennsylvaniaCamera: Nikon Z9 with a NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR lens; 1/2500 second at f/4.0; ISO 1250

Behind the Shot: While out for a walk, I had been following the song of a Magnolia Warbler along a trail when two quarreling Blackburnian Warblers dropped from the trees above. They landed a few feet in front of me, prompting me to carefully step back. They remained motionless, and I worried that the fall had injured them, but a moment later they began battling again. Once I realized the pair were too busy to notice me, I slowly dropped to the ground at their level to get a better look into their world. I adjusted my settings for action and snapped as they fought. The scene lasted a few minutes before they let each other go and returned to the canopy.

Bird Lore: The fiery throat of the male Blackburnian Warbler might suggest tropical heat, but this long-distance migrant mostly avoids the hottest zones. On their South American wintering grounds on the slopes of the Andes, Blackburnians range through cool, moist forest and mix peacefully among flocks of resident tropical birds. On their breeding grounds in northeastern North America, they flit about in shady coniferous groves—but the scene can get heated as males fiercely compete to claim the best nesting territories.

Judge’s Take (Daniel Dietrich): This photo incorporates so much of what we all hope for in a spectacular image. The photographer had the knowledge to get very low to create a foreground and background that perfectly highlights the subject. The intense action is captured perfectly as the two animals grasp at each other’s beaks. The symmetry of the wing position and color of the birds are brilliant.

Professional Award Winner: Liron Gertsman

Species: Willow PtarmiganLocation: Kluane National Park, Yukon, CanadaCamera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens; 1/5000 second at f/7.1; ISO 1600

Behind the Shot: Perfectly adapted to harsh conditions of alpine and subalpine habitats, ptarmigan are famous for changing their feathers to match either snow in winter or rocky surroundings in summer—a mastery of camouflage that makes them difficult to find all year. When I spotted a covey moving through snowy terrain in whiteout conditions, I captured this high-key image as a group flew past.

Bird Lore: One of the most widespread grouse, the Willow Ptarmigan lives at snowy northern latitudes around the globe. It not only molts its brown feathers in winter, it also grows “snowshoes”: stiff feathers on the feet that help it walk atop the drifts. But there is regional variation. In the more temperate British Isles, the local subspecies (the Red Grouse) is dark brown all year.

Judge’s Take (Lucas Bustamante): This image awakens a feeling of peace and beauty in me, and this is precisely how I perceive nature. In addition, the accuracy of framing all the flying ptarmigans in a harmonious composition is impressive—as is the perfect contrast of the white snow and the birds with their black dots. The photographer truly freezes the art of nature!

Amateur Award Winner: Tristan Vratil

Species: Great-tailed GrackleLocation: Austin, TexasCamera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens and Viltrox EF-R2 Canon EF Lens to Canon RF Camera Mount Adapter; 1/6 second at f/13; ISO 400

Behind the Shot: As I drive home in traffic after a long workday, I look forward to witnessing a daily gathering of grackles. I lean onto my steering wheel to look up at the birds flying in a chaotic pattern and wonder whether other drivers notice their beauty. One evening, I grabbed my camera and tripod and set up at a corner gas station, positioning my lens to show the commonplace surroundings. I used a slower shutter speed to capture the flying birds’ hectic movements while keeping those perched on the power lines in focus.

Bird Lore: A century ago, Great-tailed Grackles in the United States lived only in southern Texas. Now widespread, they breed in colonies as far north as Minnesota and Idaho and often gather in large, communal roosts. City centers are popular spots for congregations, perhaps because fewer predators are around.

Judge’s Take (Lucas Bustamante): I fell in love with this image. It has much to tell: first and most importantly, that you don’t need to travel overseas or outside your city to find a spectacular moment. It also shows us that nature exists not only as an isolated or pristine environment, but also at the intersection of the wild with humans. And last but not least, the eye of the photographer to represent the action using movement and take this photo on-the-fly makes this a well-deserved winning image

Plants for Birds Award Winner: Linda Scher

Category: AmateurSpecies: Black-capped ChickadeeLocation: Richfield, MinnesotaCamera: Nikon Z9 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens and a Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E; 1/1250 second at f/8.0; ISO 18000

Behind the Shot: I was walking around the Wood Lake Nature Center, an urban preserve that I often visit, when I saw several Black-capped Chickadees and goldfinches enjoying broad-leaf cattail seeds; this little guy was especially acrobatic and entertaining. I increased my ISO to keep my shutter speed fast enough to capture the quickly moving subject. I love birding in late summer, when seedeaters seem to have an endless supply of food.

Bird Lore: Because Black-capped Chickadees stay on their northern breeding grounds all year, they must adapt to the changing seasons. These tiny omnivores consume a wide variety of insects, seeds, small fruits, and other fare. Moving about their territories, they are constantly alert for new food sources. This chickadee is only a few weeks old, as indicated by its loose feathers and dusky cap, but it’s already exploring this seeding cattail.

Judge’s Take (John Rowden): To me, this image captures what many people love about Black-capped Chickadees—their big, inquisitive bird energy packed into a tiny body. The photo invites you into an ephemeral moment with the industrious bird bending the cattail to its will with no small effort on its part. The flying pieces of tiny fluff add action to the tableau, and the photo even contains a surprise: Zooming in you can see a tiny caterpillar in the chickadee’s bill. 

Youth Award Winner: Parham Pourahmad

Species: American KestrelLocation: San Jose, CaliforniaCamera: Nikon D3500 with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens; 1/1600 second at f/6.3; ISO 360

Behind the Shot: I found this kestrel pair eating insects and gravel to help them digest prey. I later saw them repeat these behaviors, except this time the male would fly up to the female and perch on her back to mate. Because pedestrians make kestrels skittish, I sat in the car with my mom, waiting to get a photo. Eventually, the male approached the female again. I clicked away, hoping to get his wings straight up to avoid any shadows. When I looked at my pictures, I found my favorite. The golden sunrise light and dark shadows of the hill make the image for me.

Bird Lore: Kestrels make up a group of more than a dozen falcon species, but the American Kestrel—widespread from Alaska to South America—is the only one in the Western Hemisphere. Nesting in tree holes and other cavities, the female does most of the egg incubating, while the male plays a major role in bringing food for hatchlings. The same birds typically pair up every breeding season as long as both are alive, but they often spend the winter separately, reuniting in spring.

Judge’s Take (Sabine Meyer): Such a classic beauty of a photo, with great warm light and saturated rich colors. The birds are caught in the act of mating and mesh together in an elegant composition that has just the right amount of negative space around the action.

Video Award Winner: Steven Chu

Species: Purple GallinuleLocation: Christmas, FloridaCamera: Nikon Z9 with a NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens; 1/320 second at f/8.0; ISO 180

Behind the Shot: On a two-week trip, I spent my first day at the Orlando Wetlands and loved it so much that I wound up going there for the next 13 sunrises and sunsets. I was especially attracted to the Purple Gallinules’ brilliant colors. One day I noticed two birds being bothered by a third. Again and again the intruder flew near the couple, who showed their agitation by squawking. Finally, the pair used their feet to secure the intruder’s head and peck at it a few times. The message was received.

Bird Lore: Most marsh birds have cryptic colors to go with their shy behavior, but the Purple Gallinule is a gaudy exception. Adults wear bright hues on their feathers, bills, and feet, as if they’d given up hope of being inconspicuous. Disputes among Purple Gallinules are usually resolved by posturing and bluffing, but if that fails, powerful kicks with those big yellow feet will quickly decide the outcome.

Judge’s Take (Mick Thompson): This stunning video caught our attention right away. The colors and lighting are brilliant, and the action tells an interesting story. The two Purple Gallinules were obviously not happy with the presence of the third, and it’s fascinating to watch the way they use their beaks and long toes to get the point across. The focus and framing are just right, and the videographer was able to capture the whole story of these brightly colored birds. 

Female Bird Prize: Travis Potter

Category: AmateurSpecies: Wild TurkeyLocation: Roseville, MinnesotaCamera: Canon EOS R7 with a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens; 1/640 second at f/5.6; ISO 2000

Behind the Shot: I noticed this Wild Turkey while I was driving home from my weekly visit to an assisted living facility and watched as she scrounged around the corroded steel of an abandoned railroad track for any bit of food. I walked carefully onto the tracks to frame the leading lines of the rails. That’s when she stretched her wings into a ballerina’s pose amid the chain-link fence, asphalt, and concrete. The contrast of natural and manufactured was stark. As humans sprawl, the species that were here long before us carve new niches. Wild Turkeys that roam suburban alleys and yards are a wonder to some and a pesky nuisance to others. In capturing this photo, I witnessed the tricky dance these birds walk in the places we call home.

Bird Lore: Although Wild Turkeys had long been a food staple for many Native American peoples, only after Europeans arrived did the increased hunting pressure drastically reduce turkey populations, wiping the birds out altogether over large regions of the United States. The comeback of the Wild Turkey has been one of the great conservation success stories of the past century. The big birds have proven surprisingly adaptable in altered habitats; they’re now common around the edges of many cities, regularly coming into suburban yards.

Judge’s Take (Alyssa Bueno): I adore this photo because it captures the Wild Turkey in its urban environment rather than as a tight close-up. She spreads her wings in an impressive, upright pose that radiates personality, perfectly befitting a Female Bird Prize winner.

Birds in Landscapes Prize: Kevin Lohman

Category: ProfessionalSpecies: California QuailLocation: Santa Cruz, CaliforniaCamera: Nikon D6 with a NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR lens and Built-in 1.4x teleconverter; 1/800 second at f/5.6; ISO 560

Behind the Shot: It was close to sunset, and I was walking along an open area, looking for wildlife. I heard a California Quail and saw this male perched on top of a bush, acting as sentinel for his flock—ready to call out a warning if threats appeared. I moved to a spot where I could see layers in the landscape and snapped this image with a long lens. Having wildlife in the scene, as opposed to a simple landscape, makes for more of a special moment: The bird is only there fleetingly relative to everything else.

Bird Lore: The well-named California Quail was originally native throughout most of the state, as well as the Baja California peninsula and small parts of Oregon and Nevada. Within that range, coveys run on the ground in shrubby habitats like chaparral and sage scrub, avoiding both open desert and dense forest. That might suggest the species is picky about where it roams. But introduced populations have proven otherwise, thriving elsewhere in the West and even in such far-flung places as Hawai‘i, Chile, the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and New Zealand.

Judge’s Take (Daniel Dietrich): This is a familiar scene for me living in Point Reyes, and one I don’t take for granted. While close-up shots can be dramatic, stepping back can create wonderful results. While the landscape is simple, it is this quail’s home, his world. He sits as a protector over his covey in this beautifully captured image. The dramatic lighting, the fog, and bird position all come together so well here.

Fisher Prize: Douglas DeFelice

Category: ProfessionalSpecies: Common GallinuleLocation: Tarpon Springs, FloridaCamera: Canon R3 with a 600mm F4 lens; 1/1250 second at f/4.0; ISO 640

Behind the Shot: I was visiting A. L. Anderson Park, capturing images of wildlife as usual. I sat on a bench, observing two Common Gallinules as they rummaged for vegetation to eat. I noticed one diving underwater for food. I don’t see this behavior often, so I tried to capture the gallinule as it submerged. It was almost sunset, and the sun was backlit on the bird. I wanted to capture the water droplets, so I underexposed the image. I was lucky to snap this as the gallinule dove below the surface.

Bird Lore: The long, thin toes of the Common Gallinule reflect both its lifestyle and family tree. It’s related to rails, which prowl about dense marshes and wet mud, where their long toes help keep them from sinking. It’s also related to coots, which spend most of their time swimming. Coots have broad lobes along the toes’ edges, which serve like webbing on a duck’s foot for pushing against the water. The gallinule, which divides its time between the marsh and open water, lacks such lobes—perhaps making it more agile on land.

Judge’s Take (Daniel Dietrich): So often we are focused on eye contact or tight face shots. I love this image for its creativity, and the risk in submitting it. There is a beauty in the structure of the legs and the splashing water. The reflections in the water contrast the chaos above very nicely.

Professional Honorable Mention: Kevin Lohman

Species: Forster’s TernLocation: Mountain View, CaliforniaCamera: Nikon Z9 with a Nikon NIKKOR Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S lens; 1/6400 second at f/4.0; ISO 560

Behind the Shot: I watched Forster’s Terns flying over a lake and diving into the water, often coming up with small fish. Holding a long lens, I tried to keep the birds in the frame as they quickly flew out of the water, though it was difficult to predict where they’d emerge. I used a fast shutter speed, but the bright sky and the terns’ white feathers required that I watch my exposure. This tern popped up near me and did a quick shake, sending droplets in every direction. When it twisted its head to remove the water, it looked like it was flying upside down.

Bird Lore: Four species of medium-sized terns—Forster’s, Common, Arctic, and Roseate—look confusingly similar. What’s more, they forage in similar ways, by plunging from the air to capture small fish just below the water’s surface. But they differ in breeding habits. While the other three usually lay their eggs in simple scrapes on the bare ground of islands or beaches, the Forster’s is a marsh bird. It often builds a substantial nest of plant material in a clump of marsh vegetation or a similar support, such as on top of a muskrat house.

Judge’s Take (Sabine Meyer): The perfect moment of high-energy contortion makes this image explode right in front of us. We can almost feel the glistening water droplets splash onto our faces. The tern’s move is graceful, and the line of water coming out of its beak helps connect the composition from head to tail. I also love that this frame freezes the eye’s nictitating membrane as the bird blinks, a perfect capture.

Amateur Honorable Mention: Erin Boisvert

Species: Barred OwlLocation : Newtown, ConnecticutCamera: Sony a7 IV Mirrorless Digital Camera with a Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/500 second at f/6.3; ISO 3200

Behind the Shot: After many quiet hours of birding on a blustery December day, I saw a Barred Owl swoop through the trees. Two Red-tailed Hawks flew in the same direction. Screeching erupted, and I followed the sound to find the birds fighting over a squirrel impaled on a tree branch. The owl came out victorious, and the hawks retreated behind me. I watched in awe as the owl moved with the ease of an Olympic gymnast to keep an eye on the hawks and its dinner, and I captured this photo as it looked in my direction.

Bird Lore: The Barred Owl can’t thrive without areas of deep forest, but within that habitat it remains abundant because of its flexible behavior. The species feeds on a wide range of prey, including mammals, birds, snakes, frogs, fish, large insects, and crayfish. Its hunting patterns vary as well: Although it’s usually nocturnal like most owls, it will also hunt in daylight. One of its major predators is its larger cousin, the Great Horned Owl, which favors open areas—reason enough for the Barred Owl to stick to the deep woods.

Judge’s Take (Daniel Dietrich): This is an incredible moment caught by the photographer. We have all felt the challenges of photographing birds through thick branches. The photographer found the right line to have minimal branches blocking the subject and prey while capturing the position of the owl, which was likely hanging from the prey momentarily. Sharp and raw in nature, this image is a winner.  

Video Honorable Mention: Tim Timmis

Species: American AvocetLocation: Port Bolivar, TexasCamera:Canon R3 with a Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM lens and Canon 1.4x III tele-extender; 1/120 second at f/10.0

Behind the Shot: As I entered Houston Audubon’s Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary before sunrise, I saw a small flock of American Avocets standing near a sandbar offshore. I waded to an adjacent sandbar and lay down with my ground pod, positioning myself so that the sun would rise behind the birds. I started filming video as rays peeked over the horizon. When the sun was about halfway up, some birds took off. Seconds later the rest launched and flew across the sun.

Bird Lore: With long, thin legs and bills, American Avocets are elegant in outline and graceful in their feeding habits. Although they may spot small creatures and pick them up, their trademark foraging move is to walk forward slowly in shallow water while sweeping their bill tips back and forth just below the surface, finding tiny invertebrates by touch. Where such small prey are abundant, many avocets can feed without direct competition and may gather in flocks of dozens. The large numbers only amplify their elegance.

Judge’s Take (Rina Miele): This was one of those scenes that transports you to a place, to a moment—and that’s very powerful. The mood and emotion transcends our digital screens and brings us right there on the water, feeling the warmth of the sun, and the humidity in the air. I love how you see the lift-off through the departure of all of the birds—they almost dissipate into the sunrise. And they are distinctly avocets, which is also an excellent detail. It is one of those scenes that takes my breath away, every time.

Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Trisha Snider

Category: AmateurSpecies: Sedge WrenLocation: Wallacetown, Ontario, CanadaCamera: Nikon D500 with a Sigma 150-600; 1/1250 second at f/8.0; ISO 560

Behind the Shot: It’s not often our community sees a Sedge Wren, so when I learned one was spotted at the John E. Pearce Provincial Park, I went to look. I heard the bird singing right away and then noticed him in the grasses using the gray-head coneflowers as stilts as he moved along the path. He would dip down into the grasses and come back up to the top and sing. Photographing the small, fast bird was challenging. As I stood back to observe his beauty and listen to him sing, I felt honored to have this moment. Birders noted that he attracted a mate: I’m hopeful they’ll return.

Bird Lore: A shy denizen of damp meadows, lurking among the sedges and singing an inconspicuous chattering song, the Sedge Wren is easy to overlook. In recent years, an odd seasonal pattern has come to light. Sedge Wrens on the northern Great Plains may begin nesting in May or June. Farther south and east, they may go unseen in early summer, suddenly appearing to breed in July. These might be the same individuals, nesting and raising young in two different parts of their range—a very unusual situation.

Judge’s Take (John Rowden): Most often, plants provide the secretive Sedge Wren with refuge and a place to forage out of our sight. But in this photo, the gray-head coneflowers create a jungle gym-like structure for the bird to pop up and sing its staccato song. The sharpness of the image, with crisp lines of stems and shadows contrasting with the soft, subtly beautiful plumage of the bird gives us a striking—and fleeting—window into this shy bird’s life.

Youth Honorable Mention: Edwin ​​Liu

Species: Red-necked GrebeLocation: Etobicoke, Ontario, CanadaCamera: Canon R5 with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens; 1/1600 second at f/4.0; ISO 800

Behind the Shot: I went out early one June morning to see a Red-necked Grebe family that I had been observing on the shore of Lake Ontario. I had to wait for the right time and find the right place with good lighting conditions. To get an eye-level image, I put a tripod into the water and made sure it was just above the water’s surface. Things happened very quickly. Luckily, I managed to get the shot I wanted: this image that shows feeding behavior of parents and chicks in their habitat. Hard work brings luck.

Bird Lore: Grebes are often considered primitive birds, but they take a modern approach to family life: Both parents share essentially equal roles in raising their young, a relatively unusual avian dynamic. Together the male and female build a floating nest, anchored to marsh plants in shallow water. They take turns incubating eggs; then the hatchlings ride on the back of one parent while the other dives for aquatic creatures to feed them.

Judge’s Take (Daniel Dietrich): A superb photo timed perfectly by the photographer: The low angle creates a wonderful foreground with the reflection leading to a sharp, well-composed image of a tender moment in nature.

These winning images originally ran in the Summer 2024 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.

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