Second place in the 2021 Birds in Flight competition: Great-crowned kingbird and great egret

Eastern Kingbird

The second place winner of our 2021 Birds in Flight competition is Ed Hughes, with this photo of an Eastern Flycatcher attacking a much larger Great Egret. He took the photo in June 2018 in a small pond in his hometown of North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

“It’s pretty much a neglected place,” Hughes says. “The previous year, I saw the flycatcher attacking a great blue heron at the pond. I was able to photograph it in the heron’s wing, but I missed it on its neck. I never saw it happen again that year. I went back the following year and the kingbirds nested almost in the same place. I waited three days for this encounter.

Editor Laura Erickson, one of our judges, praised the action and detail in the photo.

“When I was teaching junior high,” she says, “my students loved learning that the scientific name for the Great Kingbird is A tyrant, a tyrant — tyrant of all tyrants. This photo provides dramatic proof that the name is deserved, especially considering that egrets easily stab and capture live prey several times heavier than a 1 1/2 ounce flycatcher. I’ve taken dozens of photos of kingbirds attacking larger birds, including bald eagles, but none of them capture a perfect moment like this photo does. The bodies and faces of the birds are in focus and the eyes are open. The egret appears to be in a state of panic, the tyrant’s leg outstretched and the gripping toes clinging firmly to the egret’s neck. And the piece de resistance? The beautifully displayed crown of the kingbird, something never easy to see, let alone capture so vividly in a photo. Bright!”

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Hughes took the shot with a Nikon D810 camera body and a 400mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: shutter speed 2500, f/4, ISO 1000.

You can see more bird and wildlife photos by Hughes on his website.

Many thanks to our panel of guest judges: author, radio host and editor Laura Erickson; our former photo editor Ernie Mastroianni; Outdoor photographer Editor Wes Pitts; and William Brawley, Imagery Resources Editor.

See the first place winner: Sandhill Crane

See Third Place Winner: Osprey

See the finalists

View Honorable Mentions