The image of a peregrine falcon tackling a brown pelican that ventured too close to its nest (below) has snared the grand prize in the Bird Photographer of the Year 2023, the world’s largest bird photography competition.
This year’s winners were selected from more than 20,000 images entered from photographers from around the world to the different categories, with the £3,500 grand prize going to photographer Jack Zhi from the U.S. for his dramatic image taken in Southern California.
“For four years, I attempted to capture the rare sight of the female falcon attacking large brown pelicans with incredible speed and agility,” says Zhi. “I love the eyes of the pelican in this image: surprised and scared.”
Bird Photographer of the Year celebrates the world’s best bird photography, while supporting conservation efforts through imagery and financial support. This year, the competition donated £5,000 to partner charity Birds on the Brink, which provides vital funding to grass-roots bird conservation projects around the world.
“Each image is not merely a testament to the immense talent of the photographers, but a poignant reminder of the breathtaking beauty of birds,” says Will Nicholls, Director of Bird Photographer of the Year. “The astonishing calibre 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.”
The 2024 competition is now open for entries by photographers of all ages and experience.
During the breeding season, a female Peregrine Falcon fiercely protects her young, attacking anything that ventures near the nest.
“For four years, I attempted to capture these rare moment of incredible speed and agility,” Zhi explains. “The high-speed chase made it challenging to capture a close-up shot with a long lens. The falcon’s precision was amazing as it struck at the pelican’s head.”
Gold Award Winners
The Sword-billed Hummingbird, common in the Andean forests, has the world’s longest bill relative to its size.
This bird’s unique bill, adapted to feed on flowers with long corollas, makes it a vital pollinator, as bees and butterflies can’t reach the nectar and so don’t pollinate these plants.
The Purple Heron is a migratory bird that nests in the lake basins of the Italian Peninsula and feeds mainly on fish, although it also preys on mice, snakes, toads and other creatures.
In this shot, the heron caught a large Crucian Carp and voraciously swallowed it after several attempts to turn the fish on its side.
During winter migration, owls from northern Finland often fly south where they can find more food due to less snow. This Great Grey Owl chose a cemetery with abundant voles as its hunting ground.
While hunting, the owl would often stop on tombstones or other structures to observe the area.
A young Musk Duck seems mesmerised by a drop of water falling from its mother’s mouth. Of course, it’s actually interested in the morsel of food that she has in her bill. Their coloration may be drab, but they more than make up for it with their beautiful expressions and fascinating displays
Blackbird singing in the dead of night in a blue atmosphere and a shining moon.
“Getting up before sunrise allows you to experience the magical awakening of animals, Trexler explains. “The blackbird is one of the first animals to awaken.”
In a small inlet in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, there are terns everywhere during summer. “One afternoon on an overcast day, I headed down to the water with the goal of photographing terns in flight,” young Sedin said. “Instead of that, I ended up photographing an Arctic and Common Tern perched together on a railing. By utilising the white of their bodies, the overcast weather and the bright reflections in the water, I got this high-key image.”
Flooding meant that a field of sunflowers could not be harvested, and thousands of birds, including greenfinches, goldfinches and bramblings, flocked to it.
Despite their colorful plumage making them easy targets, when foraging their colours blend with the surroundings, making them hard for predators to spot.
A Maltese hunter stands proud, having legally shot a European Turtle Dove, a prized quarry on the island.
European Union legislation bans the hunting of Turtle Doves in the breeding season. Nevertheless, across the Mediterranean, an estimated 340,000 to 870,000 are killed each year.
Generations of Maltese have hunted this species on migration; a few continue to hunt following tradition.
In 2017, Malta introduced a spring hunting moratorium, which left some hunters feeling their ‘traditional’ way of life had been ruined.
Unfortunately, the ban was lifted in 2022, allowing European Turtle Doves to be killed once again. The decision has the potential to dramatically impact and further damage this beautiful bird’s chances of survival and drive it further towards extinction.
BirdLife International and their partner BirdLife Malta both condemn the hunting.
Silver Award Winners
Before capturing this image, the Vijayan spent two days observing these penguins, lying flat on the ice to avoid scaring them: “Waiting for the chick to appear, I finally got this touching shot of parental love. I trekked eight hours a day on soft snow to reach this colony and even made friends with some penguins.”
In early autumn, a sardine shoal in Los Islotes, Mexico, attracted seabird predators. Amid the shoal was an elusive Blue-footed Booby rising with a sardine in its beak.
At Samburu’s National Reserve, Kenya, among its most distinctive features are its Doum Palms. While moving away from the river, the photographer noticed this Black-headed Heron perched on one of the palm tree branches.
The Emperor Penguin breeds during winter in Antarctica, the coldest environment on Earth. It endures temperatures as low as -40°C during the long polar nights and 250 kilometers-per-hour blizzards. Adaptations allow it to maintain body temperature and conserve energy.
From October to March, Shenzhen, China, is a wintering ground for more than 100,000 migratory birds. In January 2022, tens of thousands of Great Cormorants were spotted flying over Talent Park, adding to the area’s avian diversity.
When observing King Penguins, Fitze was struck by how their behavior sometimes resembles that of humans. “This juvenile constantly begged until the annoyed adult walked away. However, the fact that the juvenile was more massive than the adult suggests good parenting overall.”
Southern Boobooks, the smallest Australian owl species, are often brought to veterinary hospitals after car accidents. Their large, outward-projecting eyes adapted for low-light hunting make them vulnerable to injury.
Bronze Award Winners
The best place to see Canada Jays for those living in Montreal is across the border in upstate New York. During a winter 2022 visit to Adirondack Park, the photographer captured the image of a jay seemingly concerned that the snow was ramping up — and rightly so, as it made driving back home a challenge.
A Great Grey Owl adult was hunting in a wheat field, and a juvenile flew to the edge of the field to be fed. Suddenly, the parent caught some prey. “I quickly pressed the shutter and captured a heartwarming moment between the parent and the next generation,” photographer Mu explains.
A Barn Owl flew over a crop field and was followed by several Common Nighthawks.
At an abandoned farmhouse in a Spanish town, seemingly nestled by the painting of a woman on the door, a European Stonechat perches as the sunrise sun bathes the space in light.
On a winter morning, fog swirled around perched birds and dead trees like tentacles. It was a breathtaking sight that filled the photographer with calm and tranquillity. Converting the image to black-and-white in post-processing, further emphasized the sense of stillness and peace.
A group of Northern Crested Caracaras was gathered around some pieces of chicken that had been placed out for them. This individual was more interested in displaying to all the others while they ate.
“Last winter, I spent considerable time at the Kitka River in Finland photographing White-throated Dippers,” Gerrits exlain. “The conditions were ideal, with abundant dippers, fresh snow and crystal-clear ice. However, the harsh temperatures, reaching as low as-27°C, were a challenge.”
A dead young Peregrine Falcon is being examined at the CRUMA wildlife rescue centre in Livorno, Italy. It had been shot by a poacher and X-rays revealed lead shot in its body – evidence of the danger of the migratory routes that cross Italian skies, an ongoing issue affecting wild birds in Italy.