Whether in quiet nature preserves or bustling cities, birds are all around us—which makes them ideal subjects for wildlife photographers.
Each year, the Bird Photographer of the Year competition highlights the best avian images captured by people all over the globe. This time, judges whittled down more than 23,000 submissions to select an overall winner, a youth winner and several commended photographs across an array of categories, from comedic images to birds in urban environments.
In addition to awarding the work of talented photographers, the contest aims to raise awareness about the plight of birds. These diverse, winged creatures face major threats, including habitat loss, disease, human-caused climate change and other issues. Since 1970, North America has lost roughly 2.9 billion birds. And across the world, an estimated one in eight species—1,409 in total—is at risk of going extinct, according to the latest State of the World’s Birds report.
“The astonishing caliber of these photographs underscores a vital message: Let us champion the cause of conservation, so that future generations can marvel at the real-life inspirations behind these extraordinary images,” Will Nicholls, director of Bird Photographer of the Year, says in a statement, per CNN’s Nell Lewis.
Below, view a selection of some of this year’s winners and top finishers.
Grab the Bull by the Horns by Jack Zhi
This year’s winning entry shows the dramatic moment a female peregrine falcon attacked a brown pelican, while both were flying in southern California. The falcon, which can dive at approximately 200 miles per hour, was protecting her nest from the larger bird that had gotten too close.
Photographer Jack Zhi says he’d been waiting for four years to capture such a photograph.
“I love the eyes of the pelican in this image—surprised and scared,” he says in a statement, per Live Science’s Elise Poore. “The action was fast and over in the blink of an eye. But I’ll remember that moment forever.”
For his efforts, Zhi won the £5,000 (roughly $6,198) top prize and the prestigious title of Bird Photographer of the Year for 2023. The photo also earned the top spot—the Gold Award—in the competition’s category for bird behavior.
Blue Hour and Red Moon by Anton Trexler
Anton Trexler, a 17-year-old from Germany, wowed the judges with his striking shot of a Eurasian blackbird silhouetted against a bright full moon. As the Young Bird Photographer of the Year for 2023, Trexler wins £300 ($372) in vouchers for camera equipment.
The Lek by Liron Gertsman
Videographers also got in on the action, vying for the contest’s video award, which looks for a “strong sequence of clips that create a powerful story,” per the contest’s website. This year’s winner for the video category is Canadian photographer Liron Gertsman, who made a short film depicting the courtship displays of sharp-tailed grouse.
To show off for females, the male birds congregate at an area known as a lek. Each one defends a small territory and performs a competitive display in an attempt to entice breeding partners.
Gertsman set up a blind—or a structure to hide a photographer from animals’ view—just outside the lek. Then, he woke up at 3 a.m. and hiked for 45 minutes to reach his hiding spot on two separate days. He also hid a remote camera in the grass near the edge of the lekking area. He went to such great lengths to view the birds respectfully, because “these birds can be very flighty and sensitive to disturbance,” he writes in the caption of his video on YouTube.
“Sharp-tailed Grouse typically arrive at their lek in darkness before sunrise and will dance and display through most of the morning,” he writes.
Fascinating Droplet by Jason Moore
In the Black and White category, Australia-based photographer Jason Moore won over the judges with his image of a young musk duck in Perth, watching a drop of water fall from its mother’s beak.
Glistening Green by Nicolas Reusens
With his stunning, monochromatic photo of a glistening-green tanager, Spanish photographer Nicolas Reusens won the top prize in the competition’s portrait category. With the bright green bird framed by heart-shaped green leaves, it was “as if nature itself had orchestrated this extraordinary tableau,” the photographer writes in an Instagram post.
He snapped the photo at the Mashpi Amagusa Reserve in Ecuador, which Reusens describes in the post as “a beacon of hope for wildlife conservation and protection, thanks to the tireless efforts of the local community.”
No Way Out by Antonio Aguti
Birds sometimes find themselves in amusing predicaments, which is why the contest has a category dedicated to humor. This year’s winner in the Comedy Bird Photo category is Italian photographer Antonio Aguti, who captured a purple heron scarfing down a large fish at Italy’s Lake Chiusi.
Blue-footed Fishing Dive by Henley Spiers
For this dramatic, submerged scene, United Kingdom-based photographer Henley Spiers won second prize in the Bird Behavior category. His underwater image shows a blue-footed booby rising up from the depths with a sardine grasped in its beak, off the coast of Los Islotes, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
“To have the bird drop in so close to me; and for it to have actually caught a fish (not all dives are so successful); and for my reflexes and camera to be fast enough to capture the very brief moment … it felt like the stars aligning and a very rare instance indeed,” he writes on Instagram.
Sunflower Paradise by Mateusz Piesiak
Polish photographer Mateusz Piesiak won gold in this year’s Birds in the Environment category, which recognizes photos that “demonstrate the relationship between a bird and its habitat,” per the contest.
His image shows a small finch called a brambling as it perches atop a dried sunflower in winter. Piesiak captured the moment by hiding a camera with a wide-angle lens amid the snow and dead flowers, then using a remote trigger in his hand.
He explains on Instagram that, because of high water levels, the field of sunflowers had been left standing instead of mowed down.
“Despite the loss for the owner, it became a true paradise for birds,” he writes. “An enormous field of sunflowers full of energy-dense seeds was undoubtedly a delicacy for many species—so no wonder that when winter came, this place attracted dozens of thousands of birds, mostly bramblings, goldfinches and greenfinches.”
A Moment of Prayer by Arto Leppänen
Birds and humans are increasingly living in overlapping environments. As such, the competition has a category dedicated to images of urban birds. This year’s winner in that category is Arto Leppänen, a photographer from Finland, who captured a great grey owl perched atop a statue of an angel in prayer.
Flying Sword by Rafael Armada
Spanish photographer Rafael Armada won the top spot in the Birds in Flight category. His aptly named image, Flying Sword, shows a sword-billed hummingbird mid-flight, with its tongue barely sticking out from the end of its beak, in Bogotá, Colombia. Of all the world’s birds, this species has the longest bill in relation to its body size.
A haven for biodiversity, Colombia hosts nearly 20 percent of the world’s bird species. The nation is “a paradise for all nature enthusiasts, especially for bird lovers,” Armada writes on Instagram.