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Winning images from 2020 Bird Photographer of the Year competition

An impressionistic image of European Shags by Majed AlZa’abi from Kuwait took top prize in the 2020 Bird Photographer of the Year contest, which is run by the UK-based conservation charity Birds on the Brink. Majed wins the top prize of £5,000 (about $6,500) and the title “Bird Photographer of the Year 2020.” Majed’s image was also the winning image in the Best Portrait category of the competition, and for that he wins a pair of Swarovski Optik binoculars.

The judging team, which included BirdWatching Contributing Editor Brian Small and Editor Matt Mendenhall, said this about the shag photo: 

“To win this competition, it takes a very special photograph. Technical perfection is simply not enough; it is the imaginative eye and a mind that seeks out the unusual and the artistic in the everyday that will do well. The vast majority of the 15,000 images entered annually are of an amazing standard, sufficient eye-candy to feed even the most visually gluttonous. But create a photograph that makes us sick with envy or cry out with uncontained excitement, then you are in with a chance. When that collective shout from the judges is ‘I wish I had taken that myself’, then you are onto a winner. Well done Majed for sharing this stunning image with us – it is a well-deserved winner.”

The slideshow below features the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners of each category, as well as the contest’s Inspirational Encounters Award, which conveys a photographer’s significant moment with a bird. The images here represent some of the very best bird photographs we have ever seen. Enjoy! 

Inspirational Encounters Award

Inspirational Encounters Award

HOMECOMING by Gail Bisson, Canada.

Providence Petrel, Lord Howe Island, Australia.

Photographer's Story: Years before I became interested in bird photography, I read The Fatal Shore, a book about the colonization of Australia and its brutal history of convict transportation. In the book, author Robert Hughes discusses the colonization of Norfolk Island and details the sad fate of its Providence Petrels. The heartbreaking story remained in my mind and heart for years, and I long harbored a wish to someday see a Providence Petrel. A recent trip to Australia allowed me to include a side trip to Lord Howe Island and have my dream realized.

The petrels were called Providence Petrels because they provided the only food available to the transported convicts from England when they landed on Norfolk Island in the late 1700s. The petrels were exterminated on Norfolk Island between 1790 and 1800. One million adults and young were harvested for food from 1790 to 1793, and numbers had dropped to 15,000 by 1796, with complete extermination by 1800. Today, other than a few pairs found nesting on Norfolk Island, and more recently a few pairs on Phillip Island, 99.9 per cent of the world population of Providence Petrels nest on Mt Gower on Lord Howe Island (roughly 32,000 pairs). The species is classed as Vulnerable. Its name is both ironic and heartbreaking, because the presence of humans was hardly ‘providential’ for these petrels. This past winter, Lord Howe Island started a rat-extermination program. By eliminating the rats it is hoped that petrel numbers will rise to a new high. What a wonderful moment it was to watch the petrels returning at dusk to Mt Gower.

Canon EOS-1D X with Canon EF100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II USM lens. Focal length 135mm; 1/3,200 second; f/6.3; ISO 1,250. Hand-held.

More photo contest winners

2019 Bird Photographer of the Year winners  

2020 BirdWatching Photography Awards winners

Audubon’s 2020 photo contest winners

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