Curious about wildlife photography? Discover how these five nature photographers captured their favorite images of rare and unusual birds in the wild.

Photographers have long felt an affinity for birds. In fact, George Shiras, an early 20th-century congressman as well as a leading wildlife photographer, was one of the first to introduce the protection of birds into law. He was a key player in the creation of the bill that would later become the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which still exists today.

In recent years, bird populations have faced a number of threats. Tropical deforestation has led to the decline of birds like the resplendent quetzal. Overfishing and overhunting in certain areas have dwindled once-flourishing puffin populations. Oil spills have killed seabirds, and climate change has already altered the migration patterns of several species. In the United States, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, born a century ago from Shiras’ efforts, is undergoing changes that could be devastating for birds.

In honor of our planet’s birds and the long-standing stewardship of wildlife photographers, we asked five expert Shutterstock Contributors to tell us about a few of the creatures they’ve encountered on their travels. Read on to hear about some of the world’s most precious birds and professional tips for photographing them responsibly. As a reminder, photography should always come second when dealing with animals. The safety and wellbeing of wildlife should always be the top priority.

1. “My first piece of advice is non-photographic: Don’t disturb the birds at any time, especially in the spring during the nesting period.”

Dusan Vainer

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Let The Bird Behave Normally

Image by Dusan VainerGear: Nikon D500 camera, Nikon 300/f2.8 lens (+ TC1.4), bean bag. Settings: Focal length 420mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f4.2; ISO 100.

Tell us about a unique bird you’ve photographed.

One of my greatest experiences was probably the day I met these lapwings on the shore of a half-flooded sand quarry in central Bohemia. Several common waders returned to this place regularly to bathe and drink during the course of the hot afternoon. I was lying there for two hours, and then a miracle happened. The lapwings appeared in front of my lens. The golden evening sun and the rarely seen bird! It was so impressive, and I was barely breathing beneath the camouflage net. In this beautiful evening light, it was easy for me to forget that I probably wouldn’t be able to catch the last bus to Prague.

Unfortunately, lapwings are quite rare. Although they were quite common twenty or thirty years ago, the situation now is completely different due to the destruction of their natural environment. Their population has declined seriously. When I was a boy, they were everywhere. Meadows were full of these birds, and you could hear their strange UFO voices every spring.

Dusan Vainer.
Dusan Vainer.

Pictured: [1] Dusan Vainer. [2] Dusan Vainer.

Pro Tip:

My first piece of advice is non-photographic: Don’t disturb the birds at any time, especially in the spring during the nesting period. All animals are sensitive during that time, and it is easy to hurt them unintentionally. If you meet lapwings, contact a local ornithologist, as they can help them to survive (lapwings are threatened by agricultural field work as well).

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2. “First, I will watch the bird from a distance with my spotting scope, and I estimate where I can photograph without distracting them.”

Ondrej Prosicky

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Study the Bird Before You Shoot

Image Ondrej ProsickyGear: Canon EOS 1DX Mark II camera, Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L IS II USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/1600 sec; f4; ISO 6400.

Tell us about a unique bird you’ve photographed.

This is a resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) from Costa Rica. I have been coming to the tropical rainforest every year since 2004, and the conditions for photography are not always ideal. I always find this wonderful bird with its impressive, long tail; however, this bird is not always in a nice part of the forest or doing an interesting activity. Since I met a quetzal for the first time, it has been my dream to capture it flying. This is when the colorful beauty of its long feathers becomes most apparent.

I managed to capture this one just two years ago in the Cordillera de Talamanca mountains near the river Savegre. The bird was flying from one tree to another, eating wild fruit. I had only one opportunity to get the photograph, and I was lucky to manage it on the first go.

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Plan to Shoot Early

Image Ondrej Prosicky.

Pro Tip:

In my opinion, the most important thing is to study all the available information about any specific species before you set off with your camera. In particular, study its activity during the day, its habitat, and its nesting and feeding habits. First, I will watch the bird from a distance with my spotting scope, and I estimate where I can photograph without distracting them. As for time, it’s usually the early morning that is most suitable for my purposes; this is when the birds are most active because they are gathering food.

Remember that not every bird discovered in the wild is suitable for photographing. No photograph of any rare species is worth distracting the birds in their activities.

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3. “Professional gear is important for shooting at the right moment and in bad lighting conditions.”

Milan Zygmunt

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Invest in Reliable Gear

Image by Milan ZygmuntGear: Canon 1DX Mark II camera, Canon 500mm F lens (+ Canon 1.4x extender). Settings: Focal length 700mm; exposure 1/80 sec; f5.6; ISO 1600.

Tell us about a unique bird you’ve photographed.

The Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher is uncommon, and there are not many photos of this bird on the internet. This tiny, 8-centimeter flycatcher has unusually large black eyes, a short bill, a peaked crown, prominent rictal bristles, and an awesome color. I found this one in Costa Rica in the area around Hacienda Baru. It was one of my goals to find this bird, so I had to find a reliable guide to help me, which was not easy.

I spent two days looking for it, and I had to climb 1,500 meters above the sea with my heavy gear in very warm weather. In the forest, there were no roads, so it was difficult and physically demanding. The first day, I only heard the bird and tried to get closer to it using an app with its voice. I succeeded the next day, and thanks to my guide and the app, I photographed it at a distance of five meters. It was very curious and followed us (and the voice app) for the next fifteen minutes.

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Use Modern Technology

Image by Milan Zygmunt.

Pro Tip:

I use a camouflage tent to get close to the animal. Sometimes I have to build a hide in the forest, especially in my country (the Czech Republic), as animals here are very shy. If you don’t know the area, you need an experienced guide. Professional gear is important for shooting at the right moment and in bad lighting conditions. Moreover, you must also have a great deal of good luck because Mother Nature is unpredictable.

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4. “I use a monopod to assure both my mobility and the quality of the picture.”

Cezary Wojtkowski

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Consider Your Mobility

Image by Cezary WojtkowskiGear: Nikon D300 camera, Nikkor 200-400 4.0 mm lens. Settings: Focal length 270mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f7.1; ISO 200.

Tell us about a unique bird you’ve photographed.

I took this photo in Yala National Park, the most-visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park, bordering the Indian Ocean, is best known for its variety of wild animals, and it is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, and aquatic birds.

One late afternoon, when the sun was not so bright, I took a path heading to the lake, where a herd of Asian water buffalos was taking a cool bath. While I was watching them, a grey heron landed on one of them. The buffalo seemed to be untouched by this fact, and it gave me the opportunity to get this shot. After a few seconds of rest, the heron continued its journey, and I was left with this shot to remember the beautiful moment.

Cezary Wojtkowski.
Cezary Wojtkowski.

Pictured: [1] Cezary Wojtkowski. [2] Cezary Wojtkowski.

Pro Tip:

In my opinion, the best lens for wildlife photography is a good telephoto zoom lens (f2.8 or f4.0). I use a monopod to assure both my mobility and the quality of the picture. In the case of this photo, I was far enough from the herd not to disturb them, but on the other hand, I was able to take such a shot.

5. “It is essential to stay silent and not to interfere with the animals. Just watch them, and they will pose for you after some time passes.”

Attila Jandi

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Be Patient

Image Attila JandiGear: Nikon D700 camera, Sigma 170-500 1:5-6.3 D lens. Settings: Unknown.

Tell us about a unique bird you’ve photographed.

When it comes to taking photographs of birds, my favorite spot is the Atlantic Coast. Dozens of species can be spotted there, including ducks, gulls, terns, gannets, kittiwakes, razorbills, and guillemots. But my favorites are the clowns of the sea: the Atlantic puffins. It was an old dream of mine to go see them in the wild and take photos of them. So far, I have taken four different trips to visit puffins in four different places.

Five Photographers Share Amazing Photos of Unique Birds Around the World — Leave the Bird to Behave Naturally

Image Attila JandiGear: Nikon D700 camera, Sigma 170-500 1:5-6.3 D lens. Settings: Unknown.

Pro Tip:

It is always essential to study the area and the species you intend to visit beforehand. Atlantic puffins can be found along the Atlantic coast at various places, but they are not there all year. Puffins spend most of their time out at sea and come ashore only during breeding season, which is normally from late May to early or mid-July. They do not build nests; instead, they occupy hollows in the ground made by rabbits.

There are places, however, where you are actually guaranteed to see them during the appropriate times. One excellent tour is in Farne Island in Northumberland, UK. Thousands of pairs of puffins will be there if you go at the right time. Other places in Europe are the Atlantic coast of Ireland, the Southern coast of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and some places in Scotland. My favorite was in the Shetland Islands, in the Northern tip of Unst: the Hermaness Nature Reserve. It is quite a remote place, and it’s difficult to reach, so when I arrived, I was alone with the company of hundreds of puffins.

It is essential to stay silent and not to interfere with the animals. Just watch them, and they will pose for you after some time passes. Never touch a chick or an egg, as parents will smell the human presence and will not care about it anymore. Simply put, respect nature.

Top Image by Milan Zygmunt.