Like humans, birds breathe. And on a cold day, the moisture from their breath condenses into steam that emanates from their beaks. Photographer Kathrin Swoboda knew this, and was hoping to capture it on film at the park near her house.
The metallic calls of red-winged blackbirds can be heard at marshes, shores, grasslands, and roadsides all over the United States. Unlike many other colorful bird species, red-winged blackbirds often stick around the same areas in the wintertime.
Swoboda arrived at the wetlands of Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia early in the morning on Saint Patrick’s Day this year, hoping to photograph the birds blowing “smoke” rings as they cried out to defend their territory. She was able to catch the male bird singing in the morning sunlight, which lit up the vapor that formed little rings from his beak.
“Every spring I go there and try to get a shot with the backlit vapor coming out of their mouth when they sing,” Swoboda told Gizmodo. “It was on my long list of goals to try and capture that in the spring.”
The photo netted Swoboda the Grand Prize for this year’s 2019 Audubon Photography Awards.
Red-winged blackbird blowing vapor rings. Taken with a Nikon D500 with Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens; 1/800 second at f/6.3; ISO 2500Photo: Kathrin Swoboda (Audubon Photography Awards)