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