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2021 Bird Portrait Contest first place: Sandhill Cranes

Bird Portrait Contest first place
Sandhill Cranes. © 2021 Karen Griggs Winchester/BirdWatching Bird Portrait Contest

Karen Griggs Winchester of North Port, Florida, won first place in BirdWatching’s 2021 Bird Portrait Contest with this stunning photo of Sandhill Crane colts resting on their mother’s back while being sheltered by her wings.

She photographed the moment in mid-March 2020 in Sarasota, Florida.

“As I watched and photographed the pair, I noticed the younger colt retreat by climbing up on mom’s back, disappearing under all the feathers,” writes Griggs Winchester. “It wasn’t long before the elder brother noticed his absence and started looking for him. His search ended as he, too, climbed up on mother’s back, disappearing under the feathers. I watched and waited… and like an answer to prayer, the mother gently and slowly spread open her wings, revealing the two colts looking straight at each other.

“As the colts again began to play, mom accommodated them even more by opening her wings yet further. It then was more like a little bedroom complete with a feather bed and walls of mother’s strong, beautiful wings keeping them safe.

“I couldn’t have asked for or imagined a more beautiful scene to photograph. I treasure the experience and photos as the amazing gifts they are.”

One of our judges, Laura Erickson, an author, radio/podcast host, and BirdWatching Contributing Editor, shared her thoughts about the image.

“Capturing a perfect moment in any bird photo takes so much luck that it’s hard to realize how much of that luck the photographer created with patience and skill. An adult Sandhill Crane’s large, thick feathers are designed to protect its colts from weather and predators, effectively hiding them from view from just about every angle just about all the time,” says Erickson. “It took more than luck to capture not just one but both colts’ faces, in perfect focus and in perfect light, at the very moment the two are gazing into the other’s big eyes, that tiny sparkle of sunlight in each making the photo come alive. The photographer was not just at the right place at the right time — it took careful positioning and mastery over the camera to be at exactly the right place at exactly the right moment, the camera’s settings exactly right, to capture this thrilling result.”

Griggs Winchester used a Canon 1 DX Mark ll with a Canon 400mm 2.8 ll lens and a 2Xlll extender on a tripod. The settings were ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec.

Many thanks to our panel of guest judges: author, radio host, and Contributing Editor Laura Erickson; our former editor Chuck Hagner, the director of Bird City Wisconsin; our former photo editor Ernie Mastroianni; professional bird photographer Brian E. SmallOutdoor Photographer Editor Wes Pitts; and Imaging Resource Managing Editor William Brawley. 

View the second-place winner: Southern Ground Hornbill

View the third-place winner: Piping Plovers

View the finalists

View the honorable mentions

Enter your photos in our BirdWatching Photography Awards Contest

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