Birds' Beauty and Resilience Shine Through in Winning Audubon Images

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Red-winged Blackbird. (Photo: Kathrin Swoboda/Audubon Photography Awards)

From courting sages and mating blue herons to an up-close albatross and a curious bobolink, the feathered subjects of the winning 2019 Audubon Photography Awards images are gorgeous representatives of their species.

There were 2,253 entries from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories — all, of course, featuring breathtaking images of birds. This is the 10th year of the National Audubon Society's contest.

Grand Prize Winner Kathrin Swoboda won for her photo of a red-winged blackbird, above. Swoboda entered the photo in the amateur category. She captured the image at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

"I visit this park near my home to photograph blackbirds on cold mornings, often aiming to capture the 'smoke rings' that form from their breath as they sing out," Swoboda says. "On this occasion, I arrived early on a frigid day and heard the cry of the blackbirds all around the boardwalk. This particular bird was very vociferous, singing long and hard. I looked to set it against the dark background of the forest, shooting to the east as the sun rose over the trees, backlighting the vapor."

Here are the rest of this year's amazing winners with descriptions by the photographers.

Professional Winner

Greater Sage-Grouse. (Photo: Elizabeth Boehm/Audubon Photography Awards)

Elizabeth Boehm took this image of a greater sage-grouse in Pinedale, Wyoming. It was the winning photo in the Professional category.

Boehm says, "I spent a number of cold spring mornings photographing the courting display of the Greater Sage-Grouse from a blind on the perimeter of the lek. Along with the strutting, I watch for the dominance fights between males. The two contestants sit side by side until, upon some invisible cue, they suddenly throw blows, hitting each other with their wings. This photo, captured on hard snowpack, shows the power they exhibit when they are fighting for mates."

Amateur Winner

White-necked Jacobin. (Photo: Mariam Kamal/Audubon Photography Awards)

Mariam Kamal describes how she captured her award-winning shot in the Amateur category.

"On my fifth trip to Costa Rica, my favorite birding spots produced a few measly sightings. So I drove six hours to a reforestation site, which turned out to be well worth the trip. For an hour I photographed a valiant troop of White-necked Jacobins consuming nectar from heliconias that swayed and bobbed in a forceful wind. I could barely breathe as I snapped—I felt that I, too, was fighting to hang on!"

Youth Winner

Horned Puffin. (Photo: Sebastian Velasquez/Audubon Photography Awards)

This horned puffin is the star of Sebastian Velasquez's winning shot in the Youth category.

"Traveling through Alaska I saw Horned and Tufted Puffins from afar, always hoping to get closer," Velasquez says. "I got my chance at the SeaLife Center. Amid the chaos of native birds swimming, fishing, and zipping past me, I waited for hours for the perfect shot. At last I spotted this secluded puffin in a moment of stillness, preening its feathers, providing a glimpse into a seemingly private moment."

Plants for Birds Winner

Hooded Oriole on a California fan palm. (Photo: Michael Schulte/Audubon Photography Awards)

In the Plants for Birds category, photographers were required to make sure their images featured a bird and a plant native to the location where the photo was taken. The goal was to highlight the critical role native habitat plays in supporting bird life.

Michael Schulte had this winning image of a hooded oriole on a California fan palm.

"Soon after moving to San Diego last year, I noticed a pair of orioles that frequented the California fan palm in my backyard. When I saw the female gathering palm fibers for a nest, I grabbed my camera," he says. "I love this shot; it shows the relationship between two native species and illustrates the natural beauty to be appreciated even in a city. And the radiating palm fronds behind the female give a sense of radiance to her diligent efforts."

Fisher Prize Winner

Black-browed Albatross. (Photo: Ly Dang/Audubon Photography Awards)

The Fisher Prize is named for Audubon's recently retired longtime creative director, Kevin Fisher. It recognizes "a creative approach to photographing birds that blends originality with technical expertise." The winning image — a black-browed albatross photographed by Ly Dang — was selected by Fisher among the finalists.

Dang describes the image, which was shot in the Falkland Islands.

"On a steep, windy slope of Saunders Island, several breeding colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses were tending their chicks and squawking at the neighbors to urge them to respect the territories. As I sat watching the birds conducting their daily activities, I started to notice the simple, elegant beauty of the adults' eyes. After several positions looking for a clear view and a good light angle, I took this shot."

Professional Honorable Mention

Bald Eagle. (Photo: Kevin Ebi/Audubon Photography Awards)

Kevin Ebi took this photo of a bald eagle at San Juan Island National Historical Park in Friday Harbor, Washington. It earned him the Honorable Mention in the Professional category.

"I had spent the day photographing foxes and was panning with this kit running with its prey when an unmistakable cry made me look up," Ebi says. "I just knew the eagle racing our way was after the fox's rabbit. I expected to have only a split second to capture the theft in one explosive frame; instead the eagle snagged the fox and rabbit, carrying both 20 feet off the ground. After eight seconds it dropped the fox, seemingly unharmed, and flew away with its stolen dinner."

Amateur Honorable Mention

Great Blue Heron. (Photo: Melissa Rowell/Audubon Photography Awards)

Melissa Rowell earned the Honorable Mention in the Amateur category for her photo of two great blue herons taken in Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida.

"A storm was on the horizon when I arrived at one of my favorite wetlands. These herons immediately grabbed my attention: The male, obviously attempting to entice the female, was doing a stretch display. I love this mating ritual and decided to spend some time with them," Rowell says.

"When serious bill duels erupted between the pair, I was fascinated by their intense expressions as they sparred. The drama was further heightened as, thunder rumbling in the distance, the wind picked up, accentuating their long, flowing plumes."

Plants for Birds Honorable Mention

Purple Gallinule on a fire flag. (Photo: Joseph Przybyla/Audubon Photography Awards)

The combination of a purple gallinule and a fire flag earned Joseph Przybyla the Honorable Mention in the Plants for Birds category. He took the photo at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida

"The normally elusive Purple Gallinule comes into the open when fire flag blooms, climbing the plant to feed on its flowers. I spotted this one making its way up the plant mid-morning on an overcast day, eating as it went," he says.

"I set up with my monopod and camera, watching, waiting. When it reached the top, I captured images as it moved from stem to stem, moving quickly, side to side, up and down, choosing the best angle, and ultimately getting this photo of the bird mid-snack."

Youth Honorable Mention

Bobolink. (Photo: Garrett Sheets/Audubon Photography Awards)

Garrett Sheets earned the Honorable Mention in the Youth category for his photo of a bobolink taken in Lincoln Township, Missouri.

"At sunset the Dunn Ranch Prairie becomes a field of golden grasses, which provided a perfect setting for this male as he perched briefly for a curious glance at my camera," Sheets says. "The robotic tone of his song was echoed by dozens of other Bobolinks as they flew overhead. I was almost too excited to take the photo, but I secured a burst of photos before he took off, flying far out over the grasses."

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If you want to see more beautiful bird images, the National Audubon Society has selected 100 additional photographs from the thousands of entries in this year's contest. From spoonbills and hummingbirds to hawks and owls, here are Audubon's Top 100.