Bird photographers are a special breed. To really capture an excellent avian photograph, a person needs the right gear, sharp technical skills, and endless patience. Luck helps, too. Those elements clearly came together for the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards winners.

This year’s grand prize winner

Photographer Carolina Fraser snapped this year’s grand prize winner with the above shot. It depicts a greater roadrunner set against a stunning backdrop of backlit dust. The scene unfolded at Los Novios Ranch in Cotulla, Texas. It’s a unique angle from which to shoot the subject. It captures the bird’s expressive face in sharp focus without interference from the magnificent feathers on the bird’s back. It also involves a background that adds copious drama without fighting with the subject for the viewer’s attention. That’s a tricky thing to capture.

This year’s competition included a few new twists on the typical categories. One award singles out the best photograph of female birds, which are often underrepresented in wildlife photography due to their lack of colorful plumage. The competition also included a video category for people shooting motion of these majestic creatures.

Check out the rest of the Audubon Photography Awards winners

Keep scrolling to see the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards winners and runners-up. Then visit the Audubon site to get the full stories on each photo and to see the video winners. Once you’re feeling inspired, go out and shoot some epic bird photos of your own.

sandhill crane with babies
Amateur Award Winner: Sandhill crane
A newborn Sandhill Crane colt rests atop its mother, its body curled around her red-crowned head. The colt’s orange and white fluffy body contrasts the mother’s blue-gray feathers, their profiles against a blurry yellow background. Robin Ulery/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
falcon looking over a cliff
Amateur honorable mention: Peregrine falcon
Atop a rocky cliff littered with feathers, a Peregrine Falcon stands with a red-crested Acorn Woodpecker in its bloodied talons. The tan and dark gray Falcon holds a feather in its beak as two other feathers, black at the top and white with bloodstains at the bottom, float, crossing in midair. Tom Ingram/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
bird eating out of a flower over water
Plants for birds award winner: Red-winged blackbird and lily pad
Beak deep in a partially opened, yellow flower emerging from the water, a gray female Red-winged Blackbird stands balancing on a lily pad, her wings partially outstretched, revealing the touch of red on her shoulders. More yellow flowers color the background. Shirley Donald/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
hummingbird and cat tail
Plants For Birds Honorable Mention: Anna’s Hummingbird and cattail
The brown, cylindrical top of a cattail stands upright as a green Anna’s Hummingbird half its size pulls away seed fibers, their fluff extending from her beak to the top of the plant. The sunlit cattail is illuminated around the edges. Karen Boyer Guyton/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
A red male Northern Cardinal seems to float above the snowy ground,the crest feathers on its head blown backward in the wind as it flies in profile in front of gray plant stalks. The bird’s three wing feathers touch the white carpet of snow, its shadow connecting below.
Professional Award Winner: Northern Cardinal
A red male Northern Cardinal seems to float above the snowy ground, the crest feathers on its head blown backward in the wind as it flies in profile in front of gray plant stalks. The bird’s three-wing feathers touch the white carpet of snow, its shadow connecting below. Steve Jessmore/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
a bird in a snowy setting
Professional Honorable Mention: Red-tailed Hawk
A Red-tailed Hawk holds an open-mouthed chipmunk in its yellow talons, the rodent’s head and front paws peeking out from a snowy perch. The raptor’s head bends low as it looks at its chipmunk prey, a piece of fur in its blue, pointed bill. Steve Jessmore/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
audobon 2021 bird photography contest winner
Youth Award Winner: Purple Sandpiper
On a wet, rocky shore, a Purple Sandpiper sits with its beak tucked under its brown and gray wing, the blurred blue ocean waves in the background. Arav Karighattam/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
audobon bird contest winner
Youth Honorable Mention: Canada Goose
On a still wetland with green grasses and brown reeds in the background, a Canada Goose flies up from the water, its wings outstretched and beak agape as another Canada Goose, wings bent at 90-degree angles, honks back. Several Green-winged Teal watch the scene from the water below. Josiah Launstein/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
hummingbird in a purple flower
Fisher Prize: Anna’s Hummingbird
More than a dozen purple blooms on a Pride of Madeira plant obscure all but a blurred wing and one eye of an Anna’s Hummingbird. The hummingbird faces the viewer with its eye clearly visible between two flowers, appearing to be making eye contact with the photographer. Patrick Coughlin/Audubon Photography Awards/2021
2021 Female Bird Prize
Female Bird Prize: Northern Harrier
A female Northern Harrier flies over a wetland, her broad wings raised over her head. Her long tail striped with white and brown spreads out like a fan, her round face facing down. Elizabeth Yicheng Shen/Audubon Photography Awards/2021