BBC's Life of Birds
Approximately 580 minutes
From BBC Video: EPISODE 5: FISHING FOR A LIVING - "Birds are masters of the air, and can gather food from anywhere on the land. But most of the Earth is covered with water and so some birds early in their history became very competent there too,both on it and in it."
Fresh and salt waters all over the world are rich in food, and as two-thirds of the world is covered in water that's a huge resource. Birds are the best fishers there are. Cameras follow common mallards, revealing them as exquisite divers. As winter grips the rivers of Yellowstone National Park,American dippers dive to prise small creatures from under the rocks.Birds even exploit the bonanza of fish that begin to surface as lakes dry up. During the dry season in Uganda,the formidable, prehistoric-looking shoebill powers its spade-like bill through the thickening mud to scoop up a massive lungfish. David Attenborough heads for the California coast. "Here, the incredible variety of bills allows many different species of wading birds to feed side by side. On the margins of the land the water retreats not just once a year but twice every day. That exposes a completely different menu, and birds compete in order to be the first to collect it. Here in California there are some that take almost suicidal risks in order to do so." A surf bird is nearly washed away by a huge wave but deftly leaps above each crash of surf before resuming feeding on the rocks.
Throughout the making of The Life of Birds, the production team always endeavoured to get David Attenborough close to wild birds, and with Providence petrels he got very close: "Nobody knows why it happens, but when you make strange noises here, seabirds fall from the sky." He picks these birds up again out at sea: "I am 20 miles out to sea. In this bucket I have got a particularly attractive liquid. It's fish oil,it's very nutritious,being oil it will float on the surface of the sea and above all it smells. At the moment there's not a bird in sight. But watch what happens when I pour it overboard." After a very short time, David is surrounded not just by Providence petrels, but also large numbers of seabirds including the largest flying birds in the world, albatrosses. All ocean wanderers still have to come back to land to breed, and feed their young. Only one bird, the ancient murrelet, is a true bird of the sea. It has managed to break the long obligation to return repeatedly to land to feed its chick, and instead the chick has to take to sea. David Attenborough goes to the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of Western Canada, to witness one of the most incredible journeys of any animal. The two-day-old chicks negotiates an obstacle course through the forest floor, over stony boulders and finally out to sea,where their parents are waiting for them.
EPISODE 6: SIGNALS AND SONGS - "It would be easy to believe that birds sing so eloquently just for pleasure. But songs and vivid colours are for communication,and make everything possible - from seeing off a predator and intimidating rivals to impressing potential mates."
Scandinavian fieldfares have special calls that act like air-raid sirens, warning of approaching enemies. Their other calls rally the troops and help them to co-ordinate defensive strikes, such as dropping faecal bombs on an intruding r aven."Alarm calls aren't always so easily recognised by outsiders. Sometimes it's better to sound the alarm more surreptitiously." Many British woodland birds send secret messages using a system that acts like an international SOS signal. The special frequency used is almost impossible for predators, and birdwatchers, to locate and so messages can be transmitted and received in safety. The plumage of different finches are like the uniforms of soldiers,each kind having its own group insignia. Common house sparrows sport special badges of rank, great hornbills use cosmetic oils to make up additional patterns, and hummingbirds and budgerigars even use ultra-violet to enhance their uniforms.Most birds want their messages to get noticed over great distances,and to do so have to use sound. In Patagonia,armed with two rocks and a hollow tree, David Attenborough enters into a morse code conversation with one of the world's largest woodpeckers, and attracts the bird right up to him.
Bellbirds in the tropical rainforest spread the message through thick vegetation by having the loudest call in the world and keeping the message simple.American bitterns use very low frequency sounds to penetrate thick reed beds and can be heard over three miles away. With the equivalent of two voice boxes, some song birds can sing two very different notes simultaneously - both bass and soprano. Short songs can contain enough information for a bird to know in a few seconds if the intruder in its ter ritory is the same species, same sex, is strong or weak, has good intentions - and even where it is without seeing it. The dawn chorus is the bird equivalent of the early morning news.They all know where their neighbours are, who is missing and who has just arrived on the scene. In springtime they are also advertising for mates.Male sedge warblers have become jazz musicians, improvising around 50 different notes and never singing the same song twice. The true virtuoso is the nightingale and he may sing 300 different love songs to woo his mate. Which bird has the most elaborate, most complex and the most beautiful song in the world ? There are many contenders, but David Attenborough prefers the superb lyrebird of southern Australia. Not only does it have its own comprehensive selection of musical notes, but it also steals sounds from its environment and incorporates them into its own repertoire.This master of mimicry may copy a dozen species of birds, and even add in the sound of chainsaws and burglar alarms.
EPISODE 7: FINDING PARTNERS - "Finding a partner is never an easy business. In dense forest it is difficult to attract attention, and even harder to keep a potential mate around long enough to show off and prove that you are the hottest thing on two legs."
In a highly competitive market,male birds go to enormous lengths to display their worth. Curassows and guans have bizarre calls that sound just like dropping bombs and electric drills. On the Galapagos Islands, frigate birds advertise their wares, taking 20 minutes to pump up their vivid red throat pouches. Females are naturally lured to the biggest and brightest. Catching the eye of a female is one thing, but keeping her for the entire breeding season is another.Western grebes and swallow-tailed gulls are skilled in the art of persuasion; they offer tasty titbits and building materials as tempting engagement presents.Waved albatrosses may take four years to find a mate, but when a bond is formed they stay together for the rest of their lives and raise their chicks as a partnership. But not all birds enter in to long-term relationships. Male Vogelkopf bowerbirds spend nine months building what has been described as the most beautiful architectural creation the animal kingdom has to offer. His bower, carefully constructed with lily stems and lavishly decorated with shiny treasures, may impress a dozen mates in a season.Bright and beautiful plumage is always a winner. Male Monal pheasants wear a burnished plumage that has been likened to a living rainbow, and exotic Asian tragopans even pump up bizarre fleshy horns and bibs of coloured skin to turn a female's head. The female's discerning eye is the driving force in the evolution of these wonderful displays. Some males even display in groups so that she can make a straight comparison.
A female calfbird chooses between a dozen males as they perform the most extraordinary song contest the Amazonian rainforest has to offer. Beneath them, 20 scarlet male cock-of-the-rocks compete by dancing together on a stage, spotlit by sunlight. There is fierce competition for the best display sites and during the breeding season a male capercaillie, in the Scottish Highlands,turns in to a fighting machine. As the females take care of all the nest duties, the males spend most of the breeding season trying to attract more and more partners. The stronger the male the more mates he attracts. But in Alaska, girl power rules as female red phalaropes are not only more colourful and more aggressive, but also leave the males with all the nursery duties and go off to find extra mates. All is not blissful in the British back garden,where charming pairs of birds appear to hop around in perfect harmony. The real sex life of the humble dunnock, or hedge sparrow, reveals promiscuous females and jealous males. The tiny superb fairy wren of southern Australia is the most promiscuous birds in the world, with both males and females having multiple partners. Male birds may even help raise a brood of chicks and not be the father of any of them. "They say 'it's a wise child that knows its own father', and that's never more true than in the world of the birds."