Today is National Bird Day. In fact it’s the 10th anniversary of the annual occasion, which is sponsored by Born Free USA in coordination with the Avian Wellfare Coalition. It is both a holiday celebrated through bird watching, bird adoption and playing bird-related games and a time for activism on the part of our feathered friends. I’m taking part with the bare minimum of drawing attention to the event, which you can find more info about here.
I’m not what you’d call an orniphile, or hardcore lover of birds. The extent of my experience with them as pets is that my family had some finches when I was a kid, and I found them very annoying. And the extent of my knowledge about birds comes primarily from documentaries about them. If you’re a real bird lover you’ve already seen the great bird films, some of which I’m listing for the newbies here below. Let me know of any titles I’ve overlooked.
Winged Migration (2001)
Jacques Perrin’s Oscar-nominated “natural tale” on avian migrations is quite possibly the king of bird docs, at least in geographic scope and the variety of species featured. Whether it’s a favorite of bird lovers, I’m unsure, but there is likely some reason for it not to be. The animals employed for the film were tame, trained from birth to be familiar with and unbothered by the film crew and the gliders, robots and other machines used in the production. So as beautiful as it is, the doc has some issues of authenticity and ethics. Also, many have been upset by the hunting scenes, which are only excused by the defense that it’s a common thing faced by some fowl.
March of the Penguins (2005)
Another film recognized by the Academy, Luc Jacquet’s film about the lives of emperor penguins in Antarctica actually won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. In its own way, the doc may be as troubling as Winged Migration. Though there was no physical manipulation of the animals, as far as I’m aware, there is much manipulation of the audience by portraying these birds through a heavily anthropomorphic narrative. Jacquet actually took issue with the media making connections between the penguins and humans, but at least the Morgan Freeman-voiced English-language version seems to encourage such response. [Available for purchase from the DOC Store]
Not quite a nature film, this doc by Judy Irving follows San Francisco author/musician Mark Bittner (who she ended up marrying) and the wild parrots he discovered and cares for. It’s about the man as much as the animals, the two correlated in a more reasonable fashion than the penguins of Jacquet’s film, and this is perfect for National Bird Day. If only we all had wild parrots in our neighborhoods for such bonding and aiding, we could participate more easily and notably. [Available for purchase from the DOC Store]
The large format directorial debut of IMAX filmmaker Stephen Low, this short documentary follows a flock of Canadian geese through their development, as well as introducing us to conversation efforts at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in St. Petersburg, Florida. For the film, Low employed similar tactics later used for Winged Migration, such as imprinting newborn chicks and training them to fly close enough to the crew so that they could better film the birds. [This film airs on DOC Channel February 3]
Ghost Bird (2009)
After the thought-extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker was spotted in an Arkansas swamp, scientists and birders flocked to the area to get a glimpse of the creature. But the bird continued to elude those who arrived, leaving the visitors and the nearby community hanging onto the hope that the alleged sighting was real and the “Holy Grail” of birds would be located. After Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, this might be the most appropriate doc for the holiday. [This film airs on DOC Channel February 11 and is available for purchase from the DOC Store]
Honorable mention: It’s Tough to Be a Bird - Disney’s Oscar-winning animated short from 1969 includes nature film material and means to educate about birds and the way we perceive them.
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