BBC's Life of Birds
Approximately 580 minutes
From BBC Video:
EPISODE 1: TO FLY OR NOT TO FLY - "Birds are the most accomplished aeronauts the world has ever seen and being able to travel by air and fly with such extraordinary precision and control is one of their most characteristic talents. But flapping wings takes a lot of effort,so if there is no need to fly, birds save their energies...they become flightless."
Feathers are the key to birds' success,and 150 million years ago when they evolved from the dinosaurs, birds took to the air. But some have abandoned flight in a bid to take over the Earth as well. To survive, these flightless birds either have to be large enough to defend themselves, such as ostriches and emus,or to live on isolated islands where mammals cannot get at them. From the famous Galapagos Islands, David Attenborough says: "Those that live here have no natural enemies from which to escape, so some birds don't bother to fly - like these flightless cormorants with their stubby, useless wings."
The immense island of New Zealand is paradise for flightless birds.The arrival of humans a mere 1,500 years ago was bad news for the birds, but even so, New Zealand gives us a rare glimpse of what the world would have been like if the birds had won the battle with the early mammals and now ruled the Earth. The kiwi is New Zealand's equivalent of a badger. David Attenborough has a midnight encounter with a kiwi on an isolated beach,and an ultra-sensitive 'starlight'camera reveals the magic moment as the kiwi snuffles its way towards David, seemingly unafraid of his presence. The rarest bird of all is the flightless kakapo - the largest parrot in the world.
EPISODE 2: THE MASTERY OF FLIGHT - "For a bird, getting into the air is not easy. Indeed, for many, it is by far the most exhausting bit of the whole business of flight."
Birds have perfected the art of flying - from high-speed hunting at 200 miles per hour to precision hovering,from short hops to long hauls.A bird's flight seems effortless, but how can birds withstand the pull of gr avity that keeps the rest of us tied so firmly to the ground? On an island in Japan, shearwaters waddle up the sloping trunk of the tree and, with a helping hand from David Attenborough, they get to the top of the tree, jump off into space and glide out to sea. That's the easy way to get airborne, but big birds such as albatrosses have to taxi along a runway of sand, running as fast as their feet will take them. David Attenborough flies like a bird. In a glider with pilot Suzanne Connor, he rides the thermals over the dramatic peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Back on the ground, a magnificent trained golden eagle alights gracefully on to David Attenborough's arm,allowing him to appreciate fully a bird's lightweight bone structure.
Next,a jet fighter rips low through the sky over his head with its wings folded back to achieve complete aerodynamic efficiency. Peregrine falcons can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour using the same technique. David Attenborough is surrounded by a whirring hum of tiny colourful birds: "There's only one group of birds that can hover for any length of time without the help of a head-wind - hummingbirds." The ability to fly gives birds the freedom of the planet, so that when the food runs out for them in the northern hemisphere in late autumn, they can fly South relatively easily and quickly to find more. But to take on these long journeys, they must stock up on food in vast quantities. Sandpipers even shrink their own guts and brains to take on more fat deposits for the flight - they will need more brawn than brain. One tiny hummingbird holds the world record for fast flights. It cracks the 500-mile non-stop sea crossing over the Gulf of Mexico in just over a day.
EPISODE 3: THE INSATIABLE APPETITE - "To fly, birds need plenty of food. If they had heavy, bony jaws and teeth they would never get off the ground, so the solution is to have a beak.And this strong, lightweight structure is one of the reasons why birds are so successful."
Beaks come in all shapes and sizes to suit the job in hand, from tweezers and nutcrackers, to drills. Crossbills force apart the toughest pine cones to prise out the seeds, and great spotted woodpeckers drill through solid wood to fish out beetle larvae.Woodpeckers can store as many as 60,000 acorns in a larder of holes drilled in the trunk of a tree. There are hawfinches that crack cherry seeds,and a hummingbird with a beak longer than its body for sucking up nectar. Sapsuckers in North America cut wells in tree bark to keep the sap flowing, in the same way that humans tap rubber. The stars of the show are the tool-users.
In the Galapagos Islands, woodpecker finches winkle grubs out of dead wood using cactus spines. Filmed for the first time, crows in New Caledonia carry their favourite sticks around with them to catch giant wood-boring grubs.The crows have learned that if provoked,the irascible grubs will bite the sticks and not let go, letting the crow just fish them out. Birds will even use other animals as lookout perches or mobile foodstores.Oxpeckers feed on ticks and other pests which they harvest from the hides of giraffes and zebras, but in a sinister twist some have developed a taste for blood and while pretending to help the animal they are actually dining on it: "In spite of having such a specialised life, living on the bodies of mammals, oxpeckers manage to get quite a varied diet, a maggot here, a tick there, a little sip of blood, perhaps a little tasty earwax!"
EPISODE 4: MEAT-EATERS - "Being such a rich food,many birds need only feed on meat once a day to sustain themselves. Nice work if they can get it,but getting it is not necessarily all that easy."
There are parrots in New Zealand called keas that fancy something a little more interesting than the usual fruit and nuts - they eat meat.To hunt, birds need super-senses and great skill. Great grey owls in North America can listen in super-stereo to the movements and noises made by lemmings hidden away under a thick blanket by snow. In Europe, kestrels are a familiar sight hovering over motorway verges.Using their ultra-violet vision, kestrels position themselves over areas where voles have marked their tracks with drops of urine. Believe it or not, urine is very conspicuous in ultra-violet.
In the rainforests of Trinidad, David Attenborough finds a bird with an acute sense of smell. David buries "an extremely smelly piece of meat" under some leaves and twigs and retreats to a distant vantage point. Forty minutes later, two turkey vultures circle 60 metres above the forest canopy, homing in on the rotting steak by smell alone. In South Africa, crowned eagles use their massive claws and hooked beaks to catch monkeys to feed to their chicks. In East Africa, grey-backed fiscal shrikes use the hooks and spikes of acacia trees to butcher lizards. And in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa,lammergeiers haul large bones high into the air and drop them onto rocks,smashing them into bite-size pieces. Off the Cornish coast, young peregrine falcons practice their flight manoeuvres on each other, perfecting their high-speed aerial pounces.These killing tactics take a lot of learning.
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