2021 Bird Photographer of the Year finalists

Recently, finalists were announced for the 6th annual Bird Photographer of the Year (BPOTY) competition. Over 22,000 images were submitted from 73 countries. Finalists are competing for a £5,000 cash prize.

‘This year we saw an incredible 22,000 entries into the competition, with images coming in from all over the world,’ said Will Nicholls, wildlife cameraman and Director at Bird Photographer of the Year. ‘The standard of photography was incredibly high, and the diversity in different species was great to see. Now the judges are going to have a tough time deciding the winner of the competition!’

The winner will be announced on September 1st. All finalist images can be viewed on the BPOTY website.

Finalist: ‘Mallard Duck’ by Zdeněk Jakl

Artist Statement: I took the photograph on a pond in a beautiful park in a quiet part of the city of Prague. As a family of Mallard ducklings swam past me, one of them began to chase a flying fly. It highlighted the fact that the instinct to feed is a powerful force even in the young, but of course the behavior itself was comical from a human perspective. Regardless of how you view what’s going on, it certainly makes for an interesting photograph and a moment in time in a duckling’s life captured for posterity.

Specs: Nikon Z6 with Sigma 500mm f/4 Sport lens. 500mm focal length; 1/1,600th second; f/5.6; ISO 500.

Finalist: ‘Hooded Crane’ by Taku Ono

Artist Statement: When I arrived at a well-known wintering haunt of Hooded Cranes in Japan it was disappointingly overcast. And what’s more I was about to go home. However, I realized that an area of the clouds was gradually dissipating as the sun rose, and I decided to stay a while – just in case.

Almost miraculously, a streak of sunlight shone through and highlighted a small group of flying cranes. I thanked the cranes, beloved by Japanese people as “the bird of happiness”, for bringing me this good luck!

Specs: Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II lens. 400mm focal length; 1/250th second; f/5.6; ISO 100.

Finalist: ‘Gentoo Penguin’ by Tom Schandy

Artist Statement: Gentoo Penguins began surfing long before the first humans latched on to this craze. This image was taken at Carcass Island on the Falkland Islands, where the birds have no option but to surf if they want to get ashore. If the waves are a decent size, you can see the birds ride or surf on the top of them. It is a thrilling behaviour to watch, and a rewarding one to capture photographically.

Specs: Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II lens. 400mm focal length; 1/4,000th second; f/5.6; ISO 400.

Finalist: ‘Swallow’ by David White

Artist Statement: Swallows have to be one of my favourite birds, and my entire family await their return in spring with nervous excitement. Will they arrive this year….? Then there’s the joy of that flash of steely blue as they return to the same stable on the farm. The one where they nested last year, and many years before that.

This photo was taken from inside the building, using a remote trigger to fire the camera, which was situated at a safe distance just outside the window. The aim was to time the image-capture to coincide with the Swallow flying through the window and I am proud to have achieved my goal.

Specs: Olympus EM1 Mark III with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 lens. 20mm focal length; 1/200th second; f/ 11; ISO 200.

Finalist: ‘Red-billed Oxpecker’ by Daniela Anger

Artist Statement: In the South Luangwa National Park you can watch a Hippo colony from a water-level hide. In addition to their human admirers, the water-loving mammals also receive a lot of attention from the local Red-billed Oxpeckers who seek a close encounter for more practical reasons.

The birds and the Hippos have evolved a symbiotic relationship: the oxpeckers feed on external parasites and the Hippos benefit from the hygienic makeover. This image shows two oxpeckers sitting on a very relaxed Hippo: all parties seem entirely comfortable with the relationship.

Specs: Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon 500mm f/4 II lens and 1.4x teleconverter. 700mm focal length; 1/800th second; f/5.6; ISO 160.

Finalist: ‘Atlantic Puffin’ by Øyvind Pedersen

Artist Statement: This photo was taken on the bird cliffs of Hornøya Island in Norway, back in April 2018. It shows two Puffins which started a brawl that continued down the snowy slope right in front of me. My goal for this trip was to try to get some images of fighting Puffins on snow and in that regard my quest was a success.

I was really lucky and my patience and persistence paid off. These two Puffins battled for several minutes, with feathers and snow flying everywhere. It was a fantastic experience – for me, if not for the Puffins.

Specs: Nikon D500 with Nikon 500mm f/4 lens. 500mm focal length; 1/2,000th second; f/5.6; ISO 800.

Finalist: Gábor Li

Artist Statement: Last summer, while on a family holiday in Croatia, I spent time photographing Shags. One of my goals was to take a photo of them underwater, but it was a lot harder than I first thought. Although they didn’t care about me, when they were on land they were much more cautious when they were underwater.

I didn’t want to bother them so my tactic was patience. I waited in the water for hours, next to the rock where they were roosting and from which I assumed they would jump and submerge. But in contrast to my expectations, I found they swam away to find a group of fish and only then would they dive. I was starting to lose patience and almost gave up.

However, eventually my persistence paid off: encouraged to dive by a nearby swimmer, one of the Shags jumped into the water in front of me and dived after a few meters. I followed the bird under the water and took a few pictures of it almost blindly. I was very happy with the result. My favorite thing about this image is that you can see the sparkly spot lit by the setting sun where the bird submerged.

Specs: Nikon D500 with Tokina 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 lens. 16mm focal length; 1/400th second; f/5.6; ISO 400.

Finalist: ‘White-tailed sea-eagle’ by Fahad Alenezi

Artist Statement: In winter, food for most animals is in short supply in northern latitudes and many species, including this Red Fox, take greater risks than they would normally do to survive. In this photo a particularly bold fox has ventured close to an area where eagles were feeding. One White- tailed Sea-eagle took exception to the incursion and gave the fox what looks like a good slap with its wings. That’s an encounter I imagine the fox will never forget.

Specs: Canon 1DX Mark II with Canon 600mm f/4 III lens. 600mm focal length; 1/3,200th second; f/8; ISO 800.

Finalist: ‘Emperor Penguins’ by Thomas Vijayan

Artist Statement: The Emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest of its kind and is endemic to Antarctica. These flightless birds breed in the winter and after a courtship lasting several weeks, the female lays a single egg then leaves! Each penguin egg’s father balances it on his feet and covers it with his brood pouch, a very warm layer of feathered skin designed to keep the egg cozy.

There the males stand, for about 65 days, through icy temperatures, cruel winds, and blinding storms. Finally, after about two months, the females return from the sea, bringing food which they regurgitate to feed the now-hatched chicks. The males eagerly leave for their own fishing session at sea, and the mothers take charge of parental care for a while.

As the young penguins grow, adults leave them in groups called crèches while they go off to fish. Five years later, if they survive their time at sea, those young penguins will return to become parents themselves. There is a reason for the timing of Emperor Penguins’ hatching. By December, when the Antarctic weather has warmed somewhat, the ice the penguins occupy begins to break up, bringing open waters closer to the nesting sites.

To take this image, I was lying flat on the ground. I did this because objects lower than penguin height are less intimidating to the birds. Consequently, they spent plenty of time beside me, meaning I could capture some beautiful shots. On this particular trip, I walked an average of eight hours each day in search of a perfect image.

Specs: Nikon D5 with Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens. 400mm focal length; 1/5,000th second; f/3.5; ISO 280.

Finalist: Black-and-white Warbler’ by Raymond Hennessy

Artist Statement: Backlit by dawn light, the breath of this Black-and-White Warbler shows the subtle colors of the rainbow as it drifts off in the cold morning air. I noticed a small shaft of sunlight shining in the forest in an area frequented by this warbler. With an image in mind, I devoted time to my quest, in the hope the bird might land in the right spot. When it did and it sang I was so happy!

Specs: Nikon D4S with Nikon 500mm f/4 lens. 500mm focal length; 1/500th second; f/4; ISO 800.

Finalist: ‘Red-crowned Crane’ by Li Ying Lou

Artist Statement: Red-crowned Crane pairs are faithful to one another throughout the year, and even during the winter months they engage in behaviour designed to strengthen the bond. Birds perform dual honking rituals and an elaborate dance, and this is much appreciated by photographers who make the pilgrimage to see them in Japan.

In order to capture the mood and convey a sense of the occasion to those looking at this photograph, I rushed to the photographic site at dawn. On my eighth attempt, I finally did photographic justice to the calling birds, with their breath vaporised by the cold air.

Specs: Canon 1DX Mark ll with Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 II lens and 1.4x teleconverter. 560mm focal length; 1/1,600th; f/8; ISO 1,000.

Finalist: ‘Great Grey Owl’ by Scott Suriano

Artist Statement: While exploring the Northwoods of Minnesota, I found myself caught in a sudden heavy snow squall. Thinking that this weather episode might deter the Great Grey Owls from hunting, I considered packing it up and calling it a day. To my surprise, however, this particular owl took to the skies and began scanning the meadow for its next meal.

With a sudden and acrobatic downward turn, it sliced through the heavy white flakes and crashed head first into the snow-blanketed field below. Within moments, I watched as it launched off into the distance with its freshly caught vole. It was a great reminder that to be successful you have to sometimes fully commit and dive in head first into the unknown.

Specs: Canon 1DX Mark II with Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens and 1.4x teleconverter. 560mm focal length; 1/1,250th second; f/4; ISO 1,250.

Finalist: ‘European Shag’ by Brian Matthews

Artist Statement: Is there any food left? In this image, a hungry juvenile Shag literally dives down its mother throat for more fish rather than waiting for it to be fully regurgitated. It was taken on the Farne Islands, one of the most accessible ‘Puffin Islands’ in the UK. A short boat trip from Seahouses in Northumberland drops you into another world of Puffins, Guillemots and ravenous Shags. Spending time with this family I managed to get some great behavioural shots. The Farne Islands aren’t just about Puffins!

Specs: Canon 1DX with Canon 500mm f/4 lens. 500mm focal length; 1/1,250th second; f/4; ISO 800.

Finalist: ‘Southern Giant Petrel’ by Eirik Grønningsæter

Artist Statement: Southern Giant Petrels happily scavenge on dead seals or penguins or any other dead animal. Generally, they are opportunistic birds although they will sometimes also kill the birds themselves – even adult King Penguin, the carcass in this picture.

The petrels are not afraid of people and so I carefully placed my camera inside the carcass of the penguin and waited for the bird to start eating. When it comes to food and feeding, Southern Giant Petrels are possessive birds, and this one is stretching its wings to ward off other petrels in the neighborhood.

Specs: Olympus E-PL5 with Lumix 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye. 8mm focal length; 1/1,600th second; f/5; ISO 800.

Finalist: ‘Eurasian Jackdaw’ by Amanda Cook

Artist Statement: It was an enchanting morning in May and I felt as though this Jackdaw and Fallow Deer were part of some childhood fairytale with the bird whispering a secret to the deer. In reality, the narrative was more ordinary and the Jackdaw was pinching hair from the deer’s back to use in nest building. I often go into Bushy Park at dawn and on this occasion it was wonderful to capture the uninhibited and natural interaction between these two creatures.

Specs: Nikon D850 with Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. 240mm focal length; 1/200th second; f/5.6; ISO 320.

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