The 2021 Audubon Photography Awards: Winners and Honorable Mentions

Thousands of people entered photographs and—for the first time— videos in this year’s contest. The finest images showed birdlife at its most tranquil, clever, and powerful.

By The Editors

Photography, at its best, can heighten our awareness, allowing us to see the world more clearly. The same could be said about birding. And when we combine the two, magical things happen.

Focusing our attention on the winged wonders that share our planet can reveal everything from the finest details to the largest patterns of life, as shown by many of the 8,770 images and 261 videos entered in this year’s contest. From the admissions focused on native flora for our Plants for Birds category to the more artistic compositions for the Fisher Prize, our judges were once again amazed by the beauty and breadth of entries. We thank all 2,416 photographers for sharing their visions with us.

This year we expanded the competition with two new prizes: a Video Award, for a new video category, and a Female Bird Prize, awarded to the best photograph of a female bird across all divisions. We also continued our tradition of bestowing the Fisher Prize on the image that takes the most creative approach to photographing birds, and a Plants for Birds Award to the top photograph depicting the relationship between native plants and birds

One trend became clear after the judging was completed: In contrast to recent years, few of the winning images emerged from far-flung expeditions. Most were taken by photographers working close to home. This may be a reflection of the many ways that birds provided solace during the challenging and restrictive conditions brought on by the pandemic.

The 2021 APA Judges

Amateur, Professional, Youth, Plants for Birds, Grand, and Fisher Prizes:

  • Sabine Meyer, photography director, National Audubon Society
  • Kathy Moran, deputy director of photography, National Geographic Partners
  • Allen Murabayashi, chairman and co-founder, PhotoShelter
  • John Rowden, senior director for bird-friendly communities, National Audubon Society
  • Tara Tanaka, wildlife photographer and videographer

Video Prize:

  • Mike Fernandez, video producer, National Audubon Society
  • Sean Graesser, biologist and conservation photographer and  videographer
  • Tara Tanaka, wildlife photographer and videographer

Female Bird Prize:

Founders of the Galbatross Project: Brooke Bateman, Stephanie Beilke, Martha Harbison, Purbita Saha, Joanna Wu

Judging criteria: technical quality, originality, artistic merit

Grand Prize: Carolina Fraser

  • Category: Amateur
  • Species: Greater Roadrunner
  • Location: Los Novios Ranch, Cotulla, Texas
  • Camera: Nikon D500 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0 lens; 1/3200 second at f/6.3; ISO 2000
  • Story Behind the Shot: One of my favorite places to take photographs is among the oil pumps and open space at Los Novios Ranch in South Texas, where wildlife weaves through cacti and birds perch on fence posts. On a blazing hot summer day just before sunset, I found myself lying facedown at an uncomfortable angle, my elbows digging into a gravel path as I photographed this roadrunner. I manually adjusted the white balance until I captured the bird bathed in golden sunlight as it took a dust bath.
  • Bird Lore: An icon of the southwest, the Greater Roadrunner is uniquely adapted for living on the ground in dry country. It can run considerable distances at 20 miles per hour and derive the moisture it needs from lizards, rodents, and other prey. When water is available, it drinks readily, but it seldom if ever uses water for bathing. Instead, frequent dust baths are the rule for roadrunners, along with sunbathing on cool mornings.

Amateur Award Winner: Robin Ulery

  • Species: Sandhill Crane
  • Location: Johns Lake, Winter Garden, Florida
  • Camera: Sony A9 with Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens; 1/800 second at f 6.3; ISO 1600
  • Story Behind the Shot: For three years I’ve watched a pair of Sandhill Cranes that nest near my house, observing and photographing them from my kayak. On a blustery day this spring, I took my camera and paddled out to check on them. Two colts had finally hatched. The wind, though, made for a challenging photo shoot. There was no solid land to anchor to, and I bounced up and down, sometimes missing the birds completely. So I increased my shutter speed and ISO to compensate. Capturing this scene under those conditions felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
  • Bird Lore: Sandhill Cranes have long childhoods. The youngsters—called “colts” for their long-legged, awkward look—learn to fly after about two months, but then stay with their parents for another seven or eight months, until the following spring. When cranes are very young, like the one in this portrait, they spend much of their time in physical contact with one of their parents, nestled under a wing or among the feathers of their back.

Fisher Prize: Patrick Coughlin

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