A pelagic cormorant penetrates a globe of fish off Baja California, Mexico. First-place winner in the inaugural World Bird Photo Contest, the picture is "one of the most surprising photos in terms of uniting information and art," judge Josep del Hoyo said of photographer Cristobal Serrano's entry.
"It's strange that in a bird-photography contest the winner is one where the bird is 2, maybe 3, percent of the picture, but ... it's as artistic as any picture can be," added del Hoyo, who served as the competition's jury secretary and co-edited the multivolume Handbook of the Birds of the World, which sponsored the contest.
Photographers worldwide submitted pictures of 3,000 bird species for the contest, which aims to highlight the diversity of the planet's feathered creatures.
The beak and head of a common loon break the water's surface in Wisconsin. In photographer Mike Murray's picture, "you can see the water form this tension—you can see such a beautiful bird from such a different perspective," del Hoyo said.
Captured by photographer Walter Nussbaumer, a male calliope hummingbird (left) performs a "shuttle display" courtship dance for a female in British Columbia, Canada.
"I've seen thousands of pictures of hummingbirds," del Hoyo said, "but this is one of the greatest. When you see the ornaments these birds have, in this detail, that's what makes it a great picture."
The calliope—whose Latin name, Stellula calliope, means "little star"—is North America's tiniest bird, measuring about two inches (five centimeters) from head to tail. The birds eat flower nectar, sap, and small insects.
(See "World's Fastest Flyer Is a Hummingbird?")
Photograph by Walter Nussbaumer, HBW/Rex
Best Digiscoped Photo: "At the Nest"
Digiscoping—the art of pairing a digital camera with a telescope to capture far-away subjects—allowed U.K. photographer Pete Morris a rare glimpse of the helmet vanga bird in Madagascar (above).
The picture, which won the "best digiscoped photograph" category, shows a view that's "very much sought after when you go to Madagascar," del Hoyo said.
"To find this bird in its nest and take [a photo] with such detail is amazing."
The helmet vanga, which can grow to a foot (0.3 meter) in length, is best known for its distinctive blue, hooked bill. (Get bird wallpapers.)
Photograph by Pete Morris, HBW/Rex
Best Threatened-Species Photo: "In the Air"
Found mostly in a small habitat in Peru, the marvellous spatuletail—pictured here by U.S. photographer Dubi Shapiro—is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
"Maybe ten years ago there were hardly any photos of" the species, del Hoyo said. "So to see a great photo of one on full display was wonderful."
(See "Rare Bird Gets Own 'Luxury' Beach.")
Photograph by Dubi Shapiro, HBW/Rex
Best Vox Populi Photo: "Together"
The people have spoken. In the one category where voters, not judges, chose which feathery head to crown, the little bee-eaters in this photograph won in a landslide.
Indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, the little bee-eater species, is, perhaps not surprisingly, the smallest of the bee-eaters.
"This really showed the taste of society," del Hoyo said. "They like colorful birds—they like birds that show love and are close together. This was a clear winner."
A lappet-faced vulture attacks a golden jackal in Tanzania in a picture by Philip Perry.
Though first and foremost a scavenging bird, the vulture will make a play for live food when it detects weakness in its prey.
"With this picture, just a half-second before or a half-second later wouldn't have been as great as this moment," del Hoyo said. "This is the kind of picture we want ... one that shows action, that shows behavior."