The 2021 Audubon Photography Awards: Top 10 Videos

We know nothing compares to seeing birds in action, so this year we expanded the Audubon Photography Awards to include a new video category. If you haven’t already, check out the stunning winning footage of a Red-Tailed Hawk hovering in midair while scanning for mice and ground squirrels in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Our judges were also taken with the runner-up: A Great Gray Owl stoically braving a snowstorm in Minnesota.

With hundreds of videos entered in the contest, there was a multitude of extraordinary avian footage from which we selected 10 additional videos to share. From stunning Cedar Waxwings visiting a backyard “bird spa” to Acorn Woodpeckers fiercely defending their territory, these clips capture vivid and intimate moments that show birds in all their beauty and power. As with the award winners and Top 100 images, our team worked in close collaboration with the videographers to ensure that the intent and essence of each photo was incorporated into vibrant alternative text in order to make the awards accessible to the largest audience possible.

And if you’re inspired to pick up a camera and pursue avian subjects of your own, our photography section has everything you need to get started, including tips and how-to’s and Audubon’s ethical guidelines for wildlife photography. Then get out there and start recording your favorite winged subjects.

1. American Dipper by Kyle Dudgeon

Video Transcript

An American Dipper bobs in and out of the rapids, its gray body disappearing entirely below the rippling water’s surface. Each time it comes up, it snaps its bill closed as it eats the bugs it captured.

Category: Amateur
Location: Bozeman, MT
Camera: Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; 1/250 second at f/5.6; ISO 1600
Story Behind the Shot: Burying myself and my camera gear along the snow-covered banks of Hyalite Creek quickly became one of my favorite winter activities this past year. Over the course of a month, I was able to find a few different American Dipper territories and document the birds as they foraged during Montana’s harshest season. This individual spent several minutes in the water just beyond the minimum focusing requirements for my lens, allowing me to capture it up close as it dove beneath the water, its whole body submerged as it hunted for invertebrates.

2. Tufted Titmouse by Carol Doeringer

Video Transcript

A Tufted Titmouse investigates a tree cavity inhabited by a raccoon that appears to be sleeping. The little gray bird attempts to pluck some fur from the mammal, which turns and swats at the titmouse, scaring it off.

Category: Amateur
Location: Allegan, MI
Camera: Nikon Coolpix P1000; 1/30 second at f/8; ISO 200
Behind the Shot: A raccoon snoozed daily in a tree cavity behind my house. I had a great view of the animal, as did a Tufted Titmouse. The bird gamely plucked the racoon’s fur, presumably to use as nesting material, returning again and again for three days. The slumbering raccoon seemed oblivious to the hair-snatching. Then one afternoon the titmouse arrived just after I’d seen the raccoon wake up and start grooming. I started filming and sure enough, the raccoon stirred and swatted at the songbird. I stopped filming after the raccoon’s icy stare sent the titmouse flying, but a few minutes later, it returned to filch more fur.

3. Great Blue Heron by Michael Brooks

Video Transcript

A Great Blue Heron walks near the edge of a small pond in the late afternoon, its feet submerged in water surrounded by grasses. In a quick movement, the heron thrusts its bill into the water and brings up two silver wriggling fish.

Category: Amateur
Location: Durham, NC
Camera: Canon EOS M3 with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 lens; 1/30 second at f/8; ISO auto
Behind the Shot: There’s a small pond in my neighborhood where Great Blue Herons love to fish. Late one afternoon in early spring, I watched for more than an hour as one of the waders patrolled the water’s edge, occasionally running off to chase away competitors but not catching any fish in spite of several attempts. The light was fading fast when I finally saw the heron’s attention fix on something in the shallow water near me. I watched motionless for several minutes as it slowly and carefully moved forward. Finally it plunged its bill into the water and brought up not one but two wriggling fish. One fish managed to escape and flop its way back into the water. The other was supper. 

4. Acorn Woodpeckers by Isabelle Reddy

Video Transcript

Several agitated Acorn Woodpeckers divebomb a squirrel climbing a tree trunk. The stunning black-and-white birds with red crests call loudly as they swoosh down and peck at the squirrel again and again until the outmatched squirrel gives up and runs down the trunk.

Category: Amateur
Location: Marilyn Murphy Kane Trail in Pleasanton, CA
Camera: Fujifilm X-T3 with Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens; 1/250 second at f/5.4; ISO 400
Story Behind the Shot: I was walking on a trail when I heard several Acorn Woodpeckers calling angrily behind me. I turned around because the noise seemed loud and insistent, even for Acorn Woodpeckers. At least five of them were attacking a squirrel climbing a tree. I immediately started filming as the birds dove toward the squirrel. They were organized in their attack, diving one after the other, relentless and bold, their cooperative skills clearly at work when they chased this intruder away. After the commotion, all was quiet. Some of the birds perched on branches, and two of them inspected a cavity in the tree at length, its contents unknown, but clearly worth defending. 

5. Sandhill Crane by Sonja Pedersen

Video Transcript

Recorded in slow-motion, a Sandhill Crane blinks its right eye. The bird’s beautiful red-capped head is cocked, its black bill partially open. With each blink, a delicate blood vessel-filled transparent membrane sweeps from front to back, and retracts, again revealing the crane’s orange eye.

Category: Amateur
Location: Lake Dan Preserve, Odessa, FL
Camera: Sony DSC-RX10M4 with a Sony 24-600mm f/2.4-4 lens; 1/250 second at f/4; ISO auto
Story Behind the Shot: I spent most of 2020 filming and photographing this family of Sandhill Cranes. Sometimes we roamed the open pastures together while they foraged or the parents taught their colts to dance and fly. Other days I sat quietly while they preened, respecting their space. I had been working on perfecting my slow-motion filming techniques when I captured this adult turning and cocking its head, looking up to the sky as if something were flying overhead. Its beak was slightly open due to the hot weather. When I reviewed the film, I was astonished by the slow motion of the eye blinking and the delicate, thin blood vessel-filled membrane of the inner eyelid—remarkable details not readily visible to my naked eye. 

6. Sandhill Cranes by Sonja Pedersen

Video Transcript

An adult Sandhill Crane slowly raises its striking red-capped head and long gray neck out of the knee high vibrant green grasses. A moment later a fluffy, orange-billed colt raises its head, looking in the same direction as its parent.

Category: Amateur
Location : Lake Dan Preserve in Odessa, FL
Camera: Sony DSC-RX10M4 with a Sony 24-600mm f/2.4-4 lens; 1/250 second at f/4; ISO auto
Story Behind the Shot: Having a 3,000-acre preserve right out my door had its advantages during a pandemic. Every afternoon I would hike to the cypress swamp where a family of Sandhill Cranes resided. The adult cranes built their nest in February 2020 and two adorable colts hatched in early March. By April, the fuzzy, feathered colts were knee high. The family would forage through the swamp on its way back to the nest each evening, clearly aware of their surroundings and the resident 12-foot gator nearby. I had been experimenting with the slow-motion capability of my camera when I focused on one of the parents and a colt as both raised their heads out of the grasses almost in unison. 

7. Red-bellied Woodpecker by Jeff Buss

Video Transcript

In the cavity of a cracked snag, a Red-bellied Woodpecker emerges with a bill full of woodchips. He shakes his red-capped head from side to side, releasing the shavings, which scatter into the wind as the bird watches them fall to the ground.

Category: Professional
Location: Korth Park, Lake Mills, WI
Camera: Sony PXW-FS5 XDCAM with a Tamron 200-400mm f/5.6 lens; 1/240 second at f/8; ISO 2000
Story Behind the Shot: With the pandemic curtailing commercial video production for most of 2020, I decided to use my downtime filming wildlife. A friend mentioned that he’d spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker at his local park working on a nest in a snag. I headed out the next day and saw the bird appear along with its potential mate. He presented the would-be nest for inspection, and it appeared to pass muster. He got right to work making the cavity a home, excavating bits of wood and depositing them outside with a vigorous shake of his head.

8. Black Vulture and Crested Caracara by John Gates

Video Transcript

A juvenile Crested Caracara on a tree branch slowly bows its head to an adult Black Vulture. As other birds call in the background, the vulture begins grooming the caracara’s head and neck, grooming it so vigorously that at one point the caracara is forced to pick up a foot to maintain its balance.

Category: Amateur
Location: La Joya, TX
CameraNikon CoolPix P1000; 1/60 second at f/2.8; ISO auto
Story Behind the Shot: From my kayak I spotted a juvenile Crested Caracara at the top of a tree where 20 Black Vultures sunned. The caracara got closer and closer to one of the vultures. When the two were side by side, the caracara put its head down, seemingly bowing in greeting. It was like it was showing up for a grooming appointment: The vulture hopped toward the caracara and began grooming the feathers on the visitor’s head. The behavior was novel enough, to me, that I stopped shooting photos and began shooting video. 

9. Wood Ducks by Teri Franzen

Video Transcript

As birdsong fills the air, a Wood Duck hen preens on a log in a pond, her four fluffy yellow and gray ducklings around her. One duckling slips into the water and gets back on the log a number of times before it settles next to its mother again.

Category: Amateur
Location: Brick Pond Wetland Preserve, Owego, NY
Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II and Canon Extender EF 2X III; 1/50 second at f/8; ISO 100
Story Behind the Shot: One rainy spring morning, peering through a low portal from a permanent blind, I spotted a Wood Duck hen resting on a log just visible over vegetation. Peering closer, I noticed several tiny ducklings squirming beneath her wings. Ducklings don’t sit still for very long, and as they became more active, I began to film. In this clip, one of the ducklings slipped and climbed back up onto the log, only to slip right back down. The rest of the family appeared oblivious to its struggles and my heart leapt into my throat as I watched. The persistent duckling fell two more times before finally gaining purchase and returning safely back to its family.

10. Cedar Waxwings by Bob Schamerhorn

Video Transcript

A flock of Cedar Waxwings gather around a puddle, whistling and trilling. They dip their heads, which feature a narrow black mask outlined in white, in and out at alternating intervals. A few of the birds fly away and new birds replace them, their yellow-tipped tails bobbing as they drink.

Category: Professional
Location: Henrico County, VA 
Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM lens; 1/48 second at f/18; ISO 3200
Story Behind the Shot: Several times over a couple of days, a sizable flock of Cedar Waxwings visited this little puddle in our suburban backyard, which we affectionately named the “bird spa.” I decided that if they showed up again, I would try and shoot a little video. By simply lying on the ground, with no blind and nothing but a beach towel over my head, a group came in for a drink. Once the first few waxwings arrived to quench their thirst, it seemed nothing would stop the rest of the flock from joining them. They came and went, creating a frenzy of activity.