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Macaulay Library’s Greatest Chook Pictures 2023


Birders added more than 9 million photos to the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library in 2022 alone. From bee-eaters to Bat Falcons, kingfishers to cockatoos, and loons to lorikeets, here are some of our favorites.

From the Winter 2023 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now. If you like this photo essay, you’ll also enjoy last year’s Best of Macaulay essay.

family Matters

The Macaulay Library holds the world’s biggest repository of bird photos, helping both scientists and birders better understand the breeding behaviors of birds, like how parents care for their young. South African birder Regard Van Dyk made such a discovery when he happened on an adult male Malachite Sunbird “foraging very acrobatically for anything it could catch.” Upon investigation, Van Dyk said he discovered a tiny juvenile sunbird perched in the reeds. “It all made sense,” he said. “The adult was … visiting every couple of seconds, feeding it, and flying off again to catch more food.”

A Malachite Sunbird feeds his chick in South Africa. Photo by Regard Van Dyk/Macaulay Library.
A turquoise and orange bird with orange feet and a large bill eating a fish while perched on a branch.
Common Kingfisher in India by Raghavendra Pai/Macaulay Library.

On the Hunt

Getting a glimpse of birds foraging for food can help scientists better understand their life history, plus it’s just fascinating for birders to see how birds acquire what they eat. Action shots of catching prey always make for great bird photography. Even a Cattle Egret poking around in an urban vacant lot on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls can make for a compelling photo, when captured in the instant it grips a grasshopper in its beak.

Brown, white and gray bird with big feet landing on the later.
White-faced Storm-Petrel in Australia by JJ Harrison/Macaulay Library.

Strike a Pose

Many photos in the Macaulay Library demonstrate the talent and patience of bird photographers who capture unique moments, from a Tropical Kingbird fiercely defending its perch from a House Finch to a White-faced Storm-Petrel delicately pattering its feet across ocean waters.

A tight line of gray and white birds perched together on a branch.
White-breasted Woodswallow in Australia by Mary Clarke/Macaulay Library.

Multitudes

Macaulay Library photos of avian assemblages recall a past era, when bird abundance was a more common sight. Cornell Lab of Ornithology PhD student Bryce Robinson documented such an occurrence, when he joined a research expedition to Antarctica that passed by the St. Andrew’s Bay King Penguin colony. “This vast sea of penguins overloads the senses with endless black and white interspersed with orange and yellow,” he said. “I felt a responsibility to document this colony, to capture and share the depth of a wild marvel that we must never lose.”

Orange, black and white bird flies in front a mirror.
Daurian Redstart in Japan by Saku Saku/Macaulay Library.

Reflective Moments

Some photos in the Macaulay Library catch the moments when light bounces to create the magical effect of a reflected image, like a twinned Red-browed Firetail on the water’s surface along the Nepean River in Australia, or even a Daurian Redstart fooled into seeing a rival in a car’s side-view mirror near Tokyo. Spanish photographer Yeray Seminario spied the shimmering image of a Greater Flamingo in the salt pans of San Pedro del Pinatar. “The absence of wind, and the flat, highly saline water, builds a nice atmosphere for the image,” he says.

Blue and yellow and black bird perches on a branch with a green woody background.
Blue-winged Mountain Tanager by Cameron Carver/Macaulay Library.

Online Favorites

It was tough choosing just a handful of images out of thousands submitted in 2022. Below are a few more of our favorites, and visit Macaulay Library to see even more great photo submissions from 2022 (and don’t miss audio recordings as well).


Homepage of Macaulay Library. A multicolored kingfisher  bird stands on a branch-black, blue, yellow, orange and pink, with a white chin and big red bill.

Thank You

Because of the tens of thousands of birders who share their audio, video, and photographic records with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Macaulay Library is a global ornithology resource for the world. In the past year scientists have published more than 70 papers in research journals using Macaulay Library media assets, including a study relying upon photos from the archives that explained why Peregrine Falcons have black markings under their eyes (to reduce solar glare). The Macaulay Library couldn’t be what it is today without a dedicated global community to sup­port it, including the contributors shown here whose photos were included in this year’s “Best of…” photo essay. And if you liked this photo essay, be sure to check out last year’s Best of Macaulay collection, too. From everyone at the Macaulay Library, thanks so much to all of the archives’ contributors for all you do, and we can’t wait to see what we do together in 2023.

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