This year’s winners of American Audubon Photography Awards are, once again, a magic show of the splendor of avian life through photographs featuring a range of birds — including the rare, bare-throated tiger heron and the greater-sage grouse which is currently under threat from widespread drilling and mining across the American Midwest.
The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards’ winning entries, six prizes and four honorable mentions, were selected from more than 6,000 submissions. “The thousands of submissions showed bird life in all of its splendor,” the organizers said. “In total, photographers from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and seven Canadian provinces entered images that captured the creativity, wonder, and beauty of species small and large, terrestrial and aquatic.”
The annual competition is organized by the Audubon Society, a nonprofit dedicated to bird conservation, and is open to professional and amateur photographers from the U.S. and Canada.
The eleventh year of the contest “honored images that evoke the ingenuity, resilience, and beauty of birds small and large, terrestrial and aquatic across four divisions: Professional, Amateur, Youth and Plants for Birds,” Audubon explains.
Two-thirds of North American birds are threatened by extinction from climate change, according to Audubon’s latest climate science report
The Winning Images
The winning photos will be featured in future issues of Audubon and Nature’s Best Photography magazines and will travel across the country in a special exhibit.
The Grand Prize winner of the competition is the image above of a double-crested cormorant, captured by photographer Joanna Lentini in the waters of Los Islotes, Mexico. The double-crested cormorant frequently dives beneath the water to retrieve food.
Some cormorants may be capable of diving more than 300 feet below the surface, but most of their hunting is done at shallower depths.
The American Dipper lives on the edge — on the boundary between air and water, on the border between streams and their banks, and even on that vague margin between songbirds (it is one, technically) and water birds. Above or below the surface, it can either walk or fly, demonstrating a mastery of all its elements.
Stocky and chunky, suggesting bitterns in shape, the three species of tiger-herons lurk in mangrove swamps and along rivers in the American tropics. The Bare-throated Tiger-Heron is the northernmost of these species, found mainly from Mexico to Panama. It is often most active at dawn and dusk, but fortunate observers sometimes spot one hunting fish and frogs in bright daylight.
Human activities aren’t always beneficial for birds, but Anna’s Hummingbird has taken full advantage of changes we’ve made to the landscape. Formerly a resident of Southern California and Baja, it has expanded its breeding range east, to Arizona, and north, to British Columbia. Planting of year-round gardens has allowed it to thrive across this vast new territory.
Frigatebirds are among the most aerial of all birds, by necessity: Seabirds that don’t swim, they are almost incapable of taking off from the water’s surface, so they soar on long, angular wings over tropical seas, sometimes for weeks. Males in courtship displays inflate huge, balloon-like red throat pouches, vibrate their wings, and make rattling noises to attract females.
Ritualized feeding is a part of courtship for many birds, from cardinals to gulls to hawks. For the Greater Roadrunner, it’s no challenge for the male to catch a lizard to give to the female. At times, though, he will present to her a large insect or a piece of nest material, or go through the motions of bestowing a gift with nothing at all. Apparently, it’s the thought that counts.
Distinctive marsh birds of the tropics, jacanas have very long toes, enabling them to walk across floating vegetation as they seek insects and seeds. The Northern Jacana is common from Mexico to Panama and the Caribbean, and sometimes wanders to Texas.
Warblers are mainly insect eaters, but some also have a taste for nectar. On their main wintering grounds in Central America, Tennessee Warblers often show splashes of bright color on their faces, the result of probing in red or orange flowers. Their attraction to nectar continues as they migrate north. In the open woods of southeastern Canada and northern states, the inconspicuous blooms of eastern prickly gooseberry appear in late spring, just in time for migrating warblers to seek them out.
After their spectacular springtime courtship dances, Greater Sage-Grouse seem to disappear into the vast sagebrush steppes of the West. Studies have shown that they may move many miles with the seasons, often shifting to higher elevations in summer, lower elevations in winter. As a result, they need large, continuous tracts of habitat to survive.
Few birds are total vegetarians, but American Goldfinches come close. While other seed eaters feed their young on insects, goldfinches serve mashed-up seeds to their nestlings. The flowers on this cup plant will go to seed later, but in the meantime the plant acts as a watering hole for the birds: Its large, opposite leaves, joined at their bases, surround the stem and create the rain-trapping cup.