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Melissa Groo//Audubon Photography Awards
Melissa Groo//Audubon Photography Awards

See All 9 Breathtaking Winners from This Year's Audubon Photography Awards

Melissa Groo//Audubon Photography Awards
Melissa Groo//Audubon Photography Awards

They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a picture is worth 1,000 words—so it's safe to say the winning shots from the 2015 Audubon Photography Awards are worth a heck of a lot. Six judges—all of them bird experts or renowned nature photographers—critiqued the 9,000 images they received on their technical quality, originality, and artistic merit, and named nine awe-inspiring finalists. The photos they selected will be published in the May-June 2015 issue of Audubon magazine and exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History beginning October 24. 

Scroll down to see the priceless images captured by this year’s winners.

Grand Prize:

Melissa Groo’s winning image, of a Great Egret fluffing his feathers, was shot in Port Richey, Florida, as night was falling.

Professional Winner:

Pro Chris Gug captured a double-crested cormorant during a dive near La Paz, Baja California Sur in Mexico.

Professional Honorable Mention:

Also a pro photographer, Jason Savage witnessed this dramatic moment between two sandhill cranes in Helena, Montana.

Fine Art Winner:

Constance Mier came upon this scene—featuring a group of laughing gulls, double-crested cormorants, and royal terns—while canoeing in Florida’s Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Fine Art Honorable Mention:

Mary Angela Luzader snagged a prize for her image of two purple gallinules.

Amateur Winner:

The bright yellow prothonotary warblers are the only eastern warblers that nest inside tree cavities. Honoree Donald Wuori was able to capture this scene, of a male warbler transferring an insect to his female counterpart, at an Audubon Sanctuary in Harleyville, South Carolina.

Amateur Honorable Mention:

Steve Russell snapped this intimate moment—between an adult flamingo and its young—while visiting the San Diego Zoo.

Amateur Honorable Mention:

Tim Timmis lay down on a sandbar inside the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary (near Port Bolivar, Texas) in order to capture a shot of these black skimmers zooming towards him.

Youth Winner:

It took Zachary Webster thousands of attempts to get the shot he’d been waiting for: this one, of a painted bunting emerging from the water at the Laguna Seca Ranch, near Edinburg, Texas.

Want more? See the judges' Top 100 photographs here. 

All images courtesy of Audubon Magazine's Audubon Photography Awards 

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science
Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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iStock

A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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