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Earthflight South America
The documentary series gives a bird's-eye view of South America, as condors soar along the Andes, scarlet macaws explore the heart of the Amazon and hummingbirds and vultures see the continent's greatest sights. It is a journey that includes Machu Picchu, the Nasca Lines and the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. In Patagonia, giant petrels shadow killer whales as they hunt seals by stranding their huge bodies on the beach. At Iguassu Falls, dusky swifts dive through the cascades to huddle in communal roosts while hummingbirds bathe below. In a secret Andean location, condors soar in flocks over 40-strong and scavenge on casualties from herds of fighting guanacos. Elsewhere, a mother condor gently pushes her youngster to the edge of a 200-metre cliff, as flight school begins. Deep in the Amazon, macaws seek medicinal clay. They are joined by a host of secretive jungle animals, including spider monkeys and tapirs, all after the same remedy. In Peru, condors soar over fighting sea lions waiting for causalities and on a mass exodus north, birds converge on the Panama Canal. In Costa Rica, black vultures descend on turtles as they lay their eggs in the sand and pick off the eggs that ping-pong through the air.
From lush cloud forests to bare summits that take your breath away, the higher you climb the tougher life gets on a mountain. Human Planet explores the extraordinary ways in which people survive at extreme altitudes where nature becomes utterly unforgiving. In the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia the vast open spaces make hunting for animals almost impossible, so the locals have forged an astonishing partnership with golden eagles which can do the hunting for them. On the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia we join a young boy locked in a dramatic battle with fearsome gelada monkeys which are hell-bent on raiding his family's meagre grain harvest. In the Himalayan state of Nepal - the roof of the world - we witness a rarely seen ceremony: a sky burial. In a land where there is little wood to burn for cremation, and where burying the dead is virtually impossible, the dead are fed to vultures in the ultimate reverence of nature.
The Mastery of Flight
The second programme deals with the mechanics of flight. Getting into the air is by far the most exhausting of a bird's activities, and Sir Attenborough observes shearwaters in Japan that have taken to climbing trees to give them a good jumping-off point. The albatross is so large that it can only launch itself after a run-up to create a flow of air over its wings. A combination of aerodynamics and upward air currents (or thermals), together with the act of flapping or gliding is what keeps a bird aloft. Landing requires less energy but a greater degree of skill, particularly for a big bird, such as a swan. Weight is kept to a minimum by having a beak made of keratin instead of bone, a light frame, and a coat of feathers, which is maintained fastidiously. The peregrine falcon holds the record for being fastest in the air, diving at speeds of over 300 km/h. Conversely, the barn owl owes its predatory success to flying slowly, while the kestrel spots its quarry by hovering. However, the true specialists in this regard are the hummingbirds, whose wings beat at the rate of 25 times a second. The habits of migratory birds are explored. After stocking up with food during the brief summer of the north, such species will set off on huge journeys southwards. Some, such as snow geese, travel continuously, using both the stars and the sun for navigation. They are contrasted with hawks and vultures, which glide overland on warm air, and therefore have to stop overnight.
The Life of Birds
This episode examines those birds whose sustenance comes from flesh and their methods of hunting. In New Zealand, Sir Attenborough observes Keas, parrots that do not eat meat exclusively, raiding a shearwater's burrow for a chick. However, it is the dedicated birds of prey, such as owls, buzzards, eagles, falcons and vultures, to which much of the programme is devoted. In order to spot and pursue their victims, senses of sight and hearing are very acute. Vultures are the exception, in that they eat what others have left, and once a carcass is found, so many birds descend on it that the carrion seems submerged beneath them. The Turkey Vulture is an anomaly within its group, as it also has a keen sense of smell. Eagles defend their territory vigorously, and a pair of sea eagles are shown engaging in an aerial battle. The Galápagos Hawk hunts Marine Iguanas, but can only do so when its quarry is vulnerable, during the breeding season. The African Harrier Hawk has adapted to extracting burrowing animals by virtue of an especially long, double-jointed pair of legs. By contrast, a shrike is not equipped with the requisite sharp beak and talons needed for butchery, and so dismembers its kill by impaling it on the thorns of acacias. The Lammergeier eats bones, and will drop them on to rocks from a great height in order to break them down to a digestible size. Also featured are the Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon.
The Life of Birds
Fly over Africa on the back of a vulture and see the most animal-packed continent with fresh eyes. Arrow-dive with cape gannets among sharks, dolphins and whales as they join the great sardine run. Soar with fish eagles as they discover an S-shaped living island comprised entirely of flamingos, and join them on a spectacular hunt. Fly with kelp gulls as they study the hunting behaviour of the greatest underwater predator of all: the great white shark. On the wings of eagles, fly through the mist-filled Victoria Falls and dive for fish in the mighty Zambezi. Circle with vultures high above the Serengeti as they watch the drama of the wildebeest migration below, and discover what happens when this canny scavenger suddenly becomes prey. Among toxic soda lakes, find out what it is like to be a flamingo, vulnerable to every predator on the continent, including baboons and hyenas. Join these flamingos as they take part in one of the most beautiful dances in the bird world. This is Africa as never seen before - from the wings of birds
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