"Winged Migration" is a film dedicated to birds and their movements according to the seasons.
For every one of us, these winged creatures are among the most fascinating, as well as the most shrouded in mystery and poetry.
Among all the vertebrates, they are the only ones to have mastered the sky. Through a series of miracles of evolution -- remarkably adapted organs, wings covered with feathers, powerful heart muscles -- they combine a minimum of weight with maximum strength and ease. Birds make up one of the most extraordinary successes of evolution, after having come from a reptilian ancestor crawling on the ground.
Their exceptional faculties have allowed them to answer annual fluctuations in the climates by finding refuge during the winter far from their homelands where they breed. They are the undeniable champions among all the long distance migrants.
The life of many of them is spent in long peregrinations between the place where they nest and
the one where they live during the winter. Many change continents; some fly around the earth in untiring turns. And this in spite of the risks which await them. In order to better face these risks, even the most solitary species gather together in gigantic groups, one of the great shows of nature.
To perform these exploits and in anticipation of the efforts awaiting them, the birds accumulate reserves of fats before their departure. To guide themselves, they have discovered astronomical bearings, observing the sun and the stars. They perceive the magnetic field of the earth like the needle of a compass. They have an internal clock which gives them the time and the season of the year. The hereditarilly innate along with an apprenticeship with their elders informs them on the term of their voyages and the skyways to reach them. They know how to cope with weather conditions in an uninterrupted dialogue with the wind.
"Winged Migration" relates the saga of these myriad of birds all along their migration routes.
-Professor Jean Dorst, French Academy of Sciences
The Migratory Routes
The routes taken by migrating birds have existed for thousands of years. Birds migrate when the area in which they breed becomes uninhabitable. They fly to where living conditions are more hospitable. Most migrations follow a north-south axis. As autumn approaches, birds living in temperate or northern climates migrate south towards the tropics and the Equator.
Four main axes may be defined:
North American birds (snow geese, Canada geese, sandhill cranes…) move towards the southern States of the USA, towards central or South America; European and Asian birds (Eurasian cranes, white storks, study swallows, curlews…) aiming for Africa, cross the Mediterranean Sea or fly round it via Spain or the Middle East; Asian birds (bar-headed geese, Siberian cranes) going to India fly to the east and the west around the Himalayas, or else sweep over passes at the "Roof of the World"; Finally, there are the Southeast Asian birds, such as knots going to southeast Asia and as far as Australia and the Pacific Ocean.
Each migrant will follow one of these four main pathways, adapting it in accordance with its individual constraints, capacities, history and according to its points of departure and arrival. For example, European white storks which winter in Africa cannot cross the Mediterranean Sea since they use thermal up-streams which do not exist over the sea. They are therefore obliged to pass through Spain or Turkey.
Each species has its own migratory route which follows more or less faithfully one of the four main transcontinental pathways and reflects its specific natural history. The four great migratory pathways possess a multitude of cross roads, deviations and branches which move away or move together, as many ways as there are populations of winged migrants.
How the Migrating Birds were Filmed
Five crews required 3 years of shooting in order to follow bird migrations flying over the seven continents: from one pole to another, from the seas to snowcapped mountains, from the canopy of heaven to mangroves and swamps, from frozen areas and scorching deserts to the peaceful countryside. To film birds in flight and to observe the behavior of species on the ground or even on the seas, the filmmakers developed innovative techniques to follow every type of bird movement, no matter what the altitude, weather conditions or speed.
Traditional Glider - Allows following some birds in ascending air currents which lift them up to high altitude carrier winds. It also allows following migrations at a short distance.
Remote Controlled Model Glider - A model glider on which a compact camera is attached. It allows accompanying birds from their takeoff and when they are in the midst of formation flights. It is equipped with a remote controlled motor and two video cameras; one camera for the birds; the other to guide the glider. The gliders can fly dozens of miles. If control of a glider is lost, a computer placed on board automatically takes control and brings it back to its base of departure.
Model Helicopter - With filming and flying control systems similar to that of the model glider, the model helicopter allows following birds over the most varied landscapes and in sites where aerial photography would otherwise be impossible.
The Helicopter - Can follow migratory flights from a distance. It is equipped with a bubble-like enclosure for a Wescam and a Tyler system which allows the use of long focal lenses. The Delta Plane or Delta Wing - Because migrating birds are not afraid of its presence, these gliders can get inside migratory flights and patterns, around formations, obtaining breathtaking footage.
The Ultra Light Motorized (ULM) aircraft - Developed for the film, it gives the filmmakers a field of vision of nearly 360 degrees. Balloon - It allows quick passages over areas where there are migrating populations. Tethered to the ground it offers variable heights.