A striking image of a female falcon attacking a brown pelican mid-flight has been named winner of the 2023 Bird Photographer of the Year. The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) can be seen swooping down on the large brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), striking the intruder's head with its talons.
Jack Zhi, from Southern California, captured the image —titled "Grab the Bull by the Thorns" after four years of trying. "I love the eyes of the pelican in this image — surprised and scared," Zhi said in a statement. "The action was fast, and over in the blink of an eye. But I'll remember that moment forever."
Peregrine falcons are the fastest creatures in the animal kingdom, with diving speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h). During the breeding season, which in California starts in late-February, females become fiercely protective of their young, attacking anything that comes close.
"The high-speed chase made it challenging to capture a close-up shot with a long lens. The falcon's precision was amazing as it struck at the pelican’s head," Zhi said.
Related: What is the fastest animal on Earth?
Photographers from all over the world submitted more than 20,000 images to the competition, hoping to win the grand prize of $6,300 (5,000 British pounds). The competition runs annually and has eight categories including Best Portrait, Birds in the Environment, and Birds in Flight.
Other category winners include an amusing capture of the purple heron (Ardea purpurea) attempting to satisfy its insatiable hunger with a large crucian carp (Carassius carassius). This image won in the Best Comedy Bird Photo category.
The heron was captured in the lake basins of the Italian Peninsula and although are known to feast "on mice, snakes, toads and other creatures" said photographer, Antonio Aguti, once the carp was caught, it “voraciously swallowed it after several attempts to turn the fish on its side."
Another award-winning capture was taken of the sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) for the category Birds In Flight, showing a clear display of its unique bill.
The sword-billed hummingbird is one of the largest species of hummingbirds and the only bird to have a beak longer than its body. This may seem like a disadvantage, however, photographer Rafael Armada, explains that this adaptation is "to feed on flowers with long corollas, [making] it a vital pollinator."
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Elise studied marine biology at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. She has worked as a freelance journalist focusing on the aquatic realm. Elise is working with Live Science through Future Academy, a program to train future journalists on best practices in the field.