As a visual catalog of the life histories of more than 10,000 avian species, the Macaulay Library contains dramatic images that provide a rare look into how birds interact with perceived foes—such as an egret jockeying with an elephant seal for space on the beach—and reliable prey, such as a spring cloud of insects pierced by a sallying Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Macaulay Library images provide spectacular evidence that cities can be full of birdlife—with photos of iconic species nesting, roosting, and migrating from Rome to Kathmandu to the grounds of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Photographer Jonathan Taffet captured an image of Purple Martins swarming above the Texas A&M University campus. “It was an amazing sight to behold,” he says, “even more amazing that this was not in some national wildlife refuge or state park, but on a campus traversed by 70,000 students.”
Many Macaulay Library photos feature anxious nestlings awaiting food or an adult chowing down, providing scientists with imagery to study bird diets. Photographer Steven Meisel documented the delivery of damselflies to Tree Swallow nestlings at a pollinator garden near St. Paul, Minnesota. “The parents were very busy feeding the two hatchlings,” he says, “about every five minutes.“
Birds sometimes do the weirdest things. When photographers are there to catch these rare moments—like the improbable interaction of a Dunlin standing atop a Willet—they unlock new information about bird species. Sharing these unique photos with the Macaulay Library helps to build a robust archive of little-known bird behaviors.
Some of the most prized photos in the Macaulay Library are images of the world’s most reclusive and cryptic birds. Photo documentation puts a face to the names of these rare and vulnerable species, which helps fuel the cause for their protection and conservation.
Photo by photo, bird song by bird song, the Macaulay Library has grown thanks to the gracious contributions of birders around the world sharing their images, sound recordings, and videos. As a result, the Macaulay Library is a global ornithology resource for the world, helping to further research and conservation.
Every year, scientific journals publish hundreds of research papers based on analyses of audio recordings, photos, and videos from the Macaulay Library. For example, scientists in Peru used the Macaulay Library to better understand the impacts of plastic on seabirds by assessing photos of birds entangled or trapped in plastic. Their results were published last year in the journal Environmental Conservation. Contributions from the worldwide community of birders are making a difference and improving our understanding of birds and their environments. None of this would be possible without the generosity and dedication of contributors to the archive.
Below are just some of the more than 40 photographers featured in this article. From everyone at the Macaulay Library and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, thank you for your time and efforts; we can’t wait to see all that we’ll achieve together in 2024.
Jill Casperson, United States. Alex Berryman, United Kingdom.Brad Imhoff, United States.Amber Joseph, United States.Steven Meisel, United States.Zebedee Muller, Australia.Pablo Ortega, Colombia.Andrés Rojas Sánchez, Spain.Lenka Steuter, Czech Republic.Jonathan Taffet, United States.Heiler Uribe, Colombia.Josiah Vandenberg, Canada.