Flights of fancy; 9 images that’ll inspire your bird photography

Winning images from the Bird Photographer of the Year competition will help your wildlife photos take flight…

It’s the contest every serious bird photographer wants to win and now we know which images have been successful in the prestigious 2021 Bird Photographer of the Year contest. Photographers from around the globe entered more than 22,000 images – all with the hope of claiming the Grand title and the £5,000 prize.

Well, the winners have been revealed and 2021’s Overall Winner has been named as Mexican photographer Alejandro Prieto, who captured a road runner who’s route was blocked by the USA/Mexico border wall. Alejandro commented; ‘The border wall crosses deserts, mountains, and even mangroves. It is not just desert, and is in fact very biodiverse with more than 1,500 animal and plants species threatened by the wall. I have watched many different animals reach the wall before turning around and heading back.” Alejandro used a Nikon D850 with Nikkor 70–200mm f/2.8 lens. Focal length 112mm, 1/320 second, f/14, ISO 200.

Image by Alejandro Prieto / Bird Photographer of the Year

Bird Photographer of the Year has conservation at its heart. This year, the competition donated more than £8,000 of essential funding to partner charity Birds on the Brink (, which supports grass-roots bird conservation projects around the world. The competition also has an eye on the future and the Young Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 was awarded to 17-year-old Swiss photographer Levi Fitze for his image of black grouse lekking at sunrise. 

Image by Levi Fitze / Bird Photographer of the Year

Taking the Gold Award in the Attention To Detail category was this beautiful frame from Spanish photographer Rafael Armada, who used a Canon 1DX Mark II and commented; ‘Reflections are one of the details I like most in nature because light undergoes incredible transformations when it interacts with water. In a way, it is nature playing with us, with our forms and with the forms that we see. In this photograph, the same water that creates the reflection strikes with force to destroy it, in a sense to overthrow the King. The King is still standing; he knows his reign is not over… not yet. But it will end the day that water no longer creates reflections in the sand.’

Image by Rafael Armada / Bird Photographer of the Year

Renato Granieri used a Nikon D4S paired with a 80-400mm lens to capture this image, entitled Chinstrap Penguin, which was named as Gold Award winner of the Black and White category. Renato commented; ‘I was lucky enough to spend some time on an expedition ship visiting Antarctica. During a Zodiac cruise I spotted a single Chinstrap Penguin on top of a giant iceberg. The relative sizes and proportions made me feel small in relation to the environment and I wanted to capture that impression photographically. Consequently, I included as much as I could of the iceberg in the photo to create a sense of scale.’

Image by Renato Granieri / Bird Photographer of the Year

Also placing in the Black and White category was this bokeh-rich frame from French photographer Nathalie Chanteau, which took the Bronze award and was shot using a Nikon D500 paired with a 200-500mm lens. Entitled Sur Les Roches Bretonnes, Nathalie commented; I live in a small port on the coast of Brittany. Sometimes, I go by boat to rocky outcrops around the coast where there are many birds, such as this European Shag. Of course, we do not get too close so as not to disturb them. On this particular occasion – a glorious evening at the end of the summer – the light of the descending sun was still bright, creating a strong atmospheric haze. It is this special light that gives this image its intense contrast and creates the bokeh effect on the sea.

Image by Nathalie Chanteau / Bird Photographer of the Year

Picking up the Bronze Award in the Urban Birds category was this intriguing frame from Italian photographer Paolo Crocetta. Entitled; The Guardians, the image was shot using a Nikon D300 paired with a 10.5mm fisheye lens and Paolo commented; ‘This shot is part of a larger project of mine, on the subject of animals that live in our cities. One of the most common species is surely the Feral Pigeon, considered by most people to be a ‘rat with wings’ and a carrier of disease. To take this photo, I used a fish-eye lens, with the camera on the ground on the edge of an impressive bridge in Padua, my home town in northern Italy. I took hundreds of photos of the pigeons using a wireless remote control and an external flash. After analysing all the shots, I noticed this image with the two birds posing as if they were guards in front of the door to a castle. I have used this photograph as part of my project, partly for its strong visual impact. I also like the way it lends new dignity to the birds, and occasionally produces a smile in those who look at the image.’

Image by Paolo Crocetta / Bird Photographer of the Year

Kathryn Cooper from the UK was awarded Silver in the Creative Imagery category for this frame, entitled ‘Funnel’. Shot with a Canon 5D Mark IV paired with a 24-105mm lens, Kathryn commented; “Between November and March, tens of thousands of Common Starlings migrate to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr Nature Reserve. My aim was to depict the fluid like movement of a murmuration and capture its essence. I am interested in transient moments when chaos briefly changes to order – moments when thousands of individual bodies appear to move as one. Here, I’ve captured the flock’s swirls, twists and turns, forming shapes like funnels and tornadoes as the birds seek a suitable spot in which to land. Rather than using a typical long exposure, I adopted a technique whereby I merged aspects of consecutive images using my own coding.

Image by Kathryn Cooper / Bird Photographer of the Year

This beautiful back-lit image was part of UK photographer Kevin Morgan’s award-winning portfolio. The image, entitled Wing Stretch, was shot using a Canon 1DX which was paired with a 500mm lens.

Image by Kevin Morgan / Bird Photographer of the Year

Mousam Ray from India picked up the Gold Award in the Bird Behaviour category for this delightful image entitled; ‘Floral Bathtub’. Shot using a Nikon D500 paired with a 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter, Mousam commented; ‘Behar, West Bengal. To set the scene, here in India autumn days (when the photo was taken) are typically hot and humid – sporadic rains interspersed with sweltering heat – while the nights are cold. I was keen to capture images of Crimson Sunbirds drinking nectar from banana flowers. Typically, these flowers point towards the ground, but in some ornamental species they point skywards and some of their outer petals open up like cups, holding water from rain or dew. Late one evening, a female Crimson Sunbird suddenly arrived and started sipping nectar. Her thirst quenched, she then started bathing in the water stored in this banana flower petal. It’s quite common to find birds refreshing themselves in the evening, visiting puddles and pools, dipping their heads and wetting their wings and body. However, it was a unique experience to see this sunbird immersing herself upside down in water contained in an ornamental flower petal, like a lady in a bathtub. Her relaxed and indulgent manner, lit by the glow of sunset, was truly a sight to behold.”

Image by Mousam Ray / Bird Photographer of the Year