Dramatic image of falcon attacking pelican wins Bird Photographer of the Year

Sep 5, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Dramatic image of falcon attacking pelican wins Bird Photographer of the Year

Sep 5, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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An image of a peregrine falcon tackling a brown pelican that ventured too close to its nest has taken the grand prize in the 2023 Bird Photographer of the Year Award, the world’s largest bird photography competition. Photographers from all over the world entered more than 20,000 images into the competition, each with their eyes on the £5,000 grand prize.

The arresting image was taken by American photographer Jack Zhi, who captured the birds 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. The action was fast, and over in the blink of an eye. But I’ll remember that moment forever.”

Here are the rest of the category winners:

Bird Behaviour

GRAB THE BULL BY THE HORNS

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus and Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis. Southern California, United States.
Jack Zhi, United States. Category: Bird Behaviour.
GOLD AWARD WINNER and Bird Photographer of the Year 2023.

During the breeding season, a female Peregrine Falcon fiercely protects her young, attacking anything that comes near the nest. For four years, I attempted to capture these rare moments of her attacking large Brown Pelicans with incredible speed and agility. 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.

Best Portrait

GLISTENING-GREEN

Glistening-green Tanager Chlorochrysa phoenicotis. Mashpi Amagusa Reserve, Ecuador.

Nicolas Reusens, Spain. Category: Best Portrait. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

Venturing into the tropical forest, I was excited to spot the rare Glistening-green Tanager. After hours of waiting, I saw the vivid-green bird on a perfect heart-shaped leaf. Its shimmering feathers reflected a dazzling array of colours. I captured every detail, grateful for this magical moment amid the lush jungle backdrop.

Birds in Flight

FLYING SWORD

Sword-billed Hummingbird Ensifera ensifera. Bogotá, Colombia.

Rafael Armada, Spain. Category: Birds in Flight. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

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. This image captures the bird approaching a feeder, with natural backgrounds and lighting.

Urban Birds

A MOMENT OF PRAYER

Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa. Helsinki, Finland.

Arto Leppänen, Finland. Category: Urban Birds. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

During winter migration, owls from northern Finland often head to the 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. Keeping a safe distance, I followed the owl and managed to capture a fleeting moment when it landed briefly on a beautiful angel statue.

Comedy Bird Award

NO WAY OUT
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea. Lake Chiusi, Italy.

Antonio Aguti, Italy. Category: Comedy Bird Photo. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

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 (Carassius carassius) and voraciously swallowed it after several attempts to turn the fish onto its side.

Conservation (single image)

DON’T MAKE WAR
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur. Southern Malta.
Ewan Heath-Flynn, United Kingdom. Category: Conservation (Single Image). GOLD AWARD WINNER.

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 0.34–0.87 million are killed every year. Generations of Maltese have hunted this species on migration; a few continue to hunt and follow tradition. In 2017, Malta introduced a spring hunting moratorium, which left some hunters feeling their ‘traditional’ way of life had been spoilt. 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.

Birds in the Environment

SUNFLOWER PARADISE
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla. Lower Silesia, Poland.

Mateusz Piesiak, Poland. Category: Birds in the Environment. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

Flooding meant that a field of sunflowers could not be harvested, and thousands of birds, including Greenfinches (Chloris chloris), Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Bramblings, flocked to it in winter. Despite their colourful plumage making them easy targets, when foraging, their colours blend with the surroundings, making them hard for predators to spot. Using a wide-angle lens masked with snow and dried sunflowers, I photographed a flock of Bramblings from their perspective, with one perched in front of my camera.

Black and White

FASCINATING DROPLET
Musk Duck Biziura lobata. Perth, Australia.
Jason Moore, Australia. Category: Black and White. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

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 colouration may be drab, but they more than make up for it with their beautiful expressions and fascinating displays.

15-17 Years

BLUE HOUR AND RED MOON
Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula. Mainz, Germany.

Anton Trexler, Germany. Category: 15–17 years. GOLD AWARD WINNER AND YOUNG BIRD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2023.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Blue atmosphere and red moon. Getting up before sunrise allows you to experience the magical awakening of animals. The blackbird is one of the first animals to awaken.

12-14 Years

HIGH-KEY TERNS
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea and Common Tern Sterna hirundo. Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.

Harry Sedin, Sweden. Category: 12–14 years. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

In a small inlet in Örnsköldsvik, there are terns everywhere during summer. So, one afternoon on an overcast day, I headed down to the water with the goal of photographing terns in flight. 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 captured a high-key image of the two terns.

11 and Under

VERDITER FLYCATCHER
Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus. Pelling, Sikkim, India.

Arko Saha, India. Category: 11 and Under. GOLD AWARD WINNER.

Pelling is one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. I observed so many birds when I visited the area. I snapped this very colourful bird in a garden near our hotel. The extremely vibrant blue colour makes this bird so beautiful.

You can see all of the winning images on the Bird Photographer of the Year Award website. All awarded images are published by William Collins in a hard-back coffee-table book, which is now available online.
The 2024 competition is now open for entries and invites photographers of all experience levels to submit their best bird photos.

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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