Check Out These Stunning Bird Images From the Winners of the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards

Check Out These Stunning Bird Images From the Winners of the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards

Writer and photographer, Joanna Lentini, scooped the top prize in North America's leading bird photography competition by the National Audubon Society. Her image, and those of the other winners and runners up, will take your breath away.

The 11th annual Audubon awards, with over 6,000 entries, were judged over a marathon Zoom call lasting a whole day. The panel of six judges whittled down the huge number contestants to just ten winners, including six prizes and four honorable mentions. We at Fstoppers are delighted to see our former fellow writer, Joanna Lentini, being recognized for her incredible work by coming out on top with her image of a double-crested cormorant diving to hunt for food in the Bay if La Paz, off the coast of Mexico.  

Grand Prize Winner: Joanna Lentini

underwater image of double crested cormorant diving into a shoal of fish

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Joanna Lentini/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind The Shot 

 I’ve spent many hours underwater at this California sea lion rookery in the Bay of La Paz, but I had never before encountered diving cormorants there. Shifting my focus from the playful sea lions, I watched in awe as the cormorants plunged beak-first into the sea to snap at the sardines swimming by. Although I spent a long time admiring these birds, I didn’t see a single one catch a fish. Adding insult to injury, curious sea lion pups would zip by the hunting birds and nip at them from behind.

— Joanna Lentini

Gear and Settings: Canon 7D Mark II and a Tokina 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 AT-X 107 DX AF Fisheye lens. 1/640 second at f/6.3; ISO 320

Full Breakdown of The Other Winners and Runners Up

Fisher Prize Winner: Marlee Fuller-Morris

american dipper bird in a stream with its head in the water

American Dipper. Photo: Marlee Fuller-Morris/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

 I followed a little-known trail in Yosemite to the top of a small waterfall and sat at the edge of the pool. A moment later, a dipper flew in. The river was ­moving quickly, but it wasn’t too deep. So instead of diving, the bird stuck its head underwater in search of prey. I thought the spectacular splash would make an awesome photo. The bird kept getting closer and closer as I sat snapping ­hundreds of shots of that splash. I will treasure that afternoon as one of my favorite moments in Yosemite!

— Marlee Fuller-Morris

Gear and Settings: Canon EOS 70D with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. 1/2000 second at f/5.6; ISO 800

Amateur Winner: Gail Bisson

portrait of a heron with its beak pointing straight upwards

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. Photo: Gail Bisson/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

After a torrential rainstorm, I went out on a late-afternoon boat trip on the Tárcoles River. It was still raining when we left the boat ramp, but once the sky finally cleared, we spotted this Bare-throated Tiger-Heron walking along the river. As the boat drifted by, the bird leaned over the bank to watch us. I raised my camera and quickly switched to a portrait orientation to capture the beautiful post-storm sky behind it.

— Gail Bisson

Gear and Settings: Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens; 1/800 second at f/4.0; ISO 1600

Plants for Birds Winner: Travis Bonovsky

American goldfinch with its head in a cupped lea drinking water

American Goldfinch. Photo: Travis Bonovsky/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

Through frequent visits to North Mississippi Regional Park, an area restored with native plants, I became familiar with the cup plant and learned that its leaves can hold rainwater, as the name suggests. I read that birds and other wildlife like to drink from these plants, so I always keep an eye out for bird activity when I pass by them. Finally one late July day I was lucky enough to witness a female American Goldfinch plunge her head into a plant.

— Travis Bonovsky

Gear and Settings: Nikon D7100 with Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD. 1/160 second at f/10.0; ISO 320

Professional Winner: Sue Dougherty

Close-up of Magnificent Frigatebird with inflated red chest back-lit but the sun

Magnificent Frigatebird. Photo: Sue Dougherty/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

The sun was setting behind a frigatebird breeding colony in the Galápagos. The birds were very active and stunningly close, and the experience was all the more special because I was with great friends who were equally mesmerized by the scene. We got on the sand, lying on our bellies and handholding our cameras, composing silhouettes and starbursts on birds’ wingtips. I noticed this male, with his throat pouch lit up by the sun, and zoomed in to capture his portrait.

— Sue Dougherty

Gear and settings: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. 1/1250 second at f/8.0; ISO 1250

Youth Winner: Vayun Tiwari

northern jacana bird looking into a white flower

Northern Jacana. Photo: Vayun Tiwari/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

On a boat ride on the New River, I noticed a few Northern Jacanas on a patch of water lilies and asked the captain to stop. I hoped our vessel wouldn’t scare away the birds. I couldn’t believe my luck when one walked closer and closer to us. The boat was rocking, but when the bird stopped for a ­moment to peer into a water lily, I was able to set up and get this special shot.

— Vayun Tiwari

Gear and Settings: Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. 1/320 second at f/5.0; ISO 1250

Amateur Honorable Mention: Bibek Ghosh

hummingbird in flight catching a water droplet on its beak

Anna’s Hummingbird. Photo: Bibek Ghosh/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

 Near my home in Fremont is a historic farm with a water fountain that’s a magnet for birds. I was by the fountain looking for warblers and other migrants when I saw this hummingbird, a year-round ­resident, exhibiting some very interesting behavior. It swooped in for a drink and then stuck around to play in the water, as if trying to catch a droplet. After several frames, I finally captured the bird succeeding at its game. 

— Bibek Ghosh

Gear and settings: Fujifilm X-T3 with Canon 600mm f/4L II lens and Fringer EF-FX Pro II Lens Mount Adapter. 1/4000 second at f/4.0; ISO 3,200

Youth Honorable Mention: Christopher Smith

close up image of a greater roadrunner with a lizard in its beak

Greater Roadrunner. Photo: Christopher Smith/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

While on a walk through a nature preserve in Fresno, I heard a roadrunner cooing to its mate. I followed the sound to find the bird clutching a gift for its partner: a really big fence lizard! The roadrunner perched on a post above me for nearly 10 minutes. The lighting was harsh and it was difficult to get the proper camera setting, but I managed to take this shot. I like how the photograph shows a small predator with its prey. 

— Christopher Smith

Gear and settings: Panasonic Lumix FZ80 4K with 60X Zoom DC VARIO 20-1200mm f/2.8-5.9 lens; 1/500 second at f/5.6; ISO 200

Plants for Birds Honorable Mention: Natalie Robertson

warbler on a branch feeding from a gooseberry

Tennessee Warbler. Photo: Natalie Robertson/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

This warbler was difficult to photograph as it frantically hopped from branch to branch while foraging on a native gooseberry—one of the plants that flower in early spring in this part of Canada. Gooseberries are an important source of food for exhausted songbirds migrating north over the Great Lakes, and I was thrilled to get a clear image of this warbler drinking nectar from the tiny flowers. 

— Natalie Robertson

Gear and Settings: Canon 7D Mark II with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. 1/1000 second at f 6.3; ISO 500

Professional Honorable Mention: Gene Putney

grouse mating display from behind

Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo: Gene Putney/Audubon Photography Awards

Behind the Shot

In spring 2019 I made my first venture to watch the Greater Sage-Grouse perform its courtship ritual. Late one afternoon I set up my camera at the edge of a rural road and used my car as a blind. This male was the first bird I saw, and he proved to be a great model. As he faced away from me, he provided a nice profile pose, and I thought it was a neat perspective to get his photo from behind. 

— Gene Putney

Gear and settings: Nikon D500 with AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED lens; 1/400 second at f/5.6; ISO 1,600

All images used with permission from the National Audubon Society 

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2 Comments

Garrett Reid's picture

Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but apart from the first image I’m not particularly impressed with these. My breath certainly isn’t taken away. But hey, I didn’t take any bird photos so they’re certainly better then mine!

Elmar Akhmetov's picture

One thing to note is the equipment used in all the categories and the amateur one :)