Movie Review: Flight: The Genius of Birds
by Rich Deem

Movie Review

Synopsis: Amazing requirements for flight.
Summary: Flight: The Genius of Birds is an excellent movie about the design of birds for flight. Illustra Media takes us through a beautifully photographed and illustrated tour of all the biological systems in birds that must be exquisitely tuned to make flight possible.

Rating: 5 Star Rating: Recommended
Flight: The Genius of Birds


Flight: The Genius of Birds is the first episode in Illustra Media's new series The Design of Life. They are going to be hard-pressed to top the sheer beauty of the photography and animations found in their first movie. Although the series is about design, the video doesn't wallop you over the head about the design aspects. Instead, the designs of flight are quite obvious just from the very informative topics covered.


The first main section of the film examines how birds develop within the egg. In an amazing series of real time and time lapse video clips, we get to see how a bird goes from a single cell to a hackling—all in a period of only about 3 weeks.

Learning to fly

Flight: The Genius of Birds goes on to show how young birds learn to fly. This part of the DVD shows how flight is achieved through the use of various kinds of feathers and wing movement. There is a beautiful examination of how a bird lands, complete with amazing animations of wing movement and bone structures and slow motion photography.


Another excellent animation shows how a birds can flap its wings with all the muscles originating below the wing. The animation is first class and very detailed.


Following the chapter on how normal birds fly is a section on flight in hummingbirds. The design innovations in hummingbirds are remarkable. Again with slow motion photography and animations, Flight: The Genius of Birds shows how hummingbirds can generation lift on both downstroke and upstroke wing motions, allowing them to hover in mid-air. Skeletal design innovations allow hummingbirds to actually fly backwards and perform extremely acrobatic flight motions. In order to power such flight, all the other systems of the bird must be finely tuned, including hyperactive nervous and circulatory systems, with the heart beating up to 1,250 beats/minute. In order to supply the nutritional needs  of the bird, it must eat twice its body weight every day. The tongue of the hummingbird is a design marvel. Dual segmented tubes open and close in 20 milliseconds to collect nectar.

European starlings

There is some amazing footage of European starlings coming in to roost for the night. Flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds move in a remarkable symphony of coordinated motions, like shifting clouds. Such coordinated flight is truly amazing.

Arctic terns

Arctic terns migrate from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland to Antarctica every year—a round trip of up to 50,000 miles. The segment includes the study that first showed the migration routes and how the birds take advantage of the prevailing winds.


The video ends with a discussion of feather design and design of birds for flight, in general. The conclusion seems pretty obvious—birds were designed for flight.

Conclusions Top of page

Illustra Media's first episode, Flight: The Genius of Birds, in The Design of Life series is a big hit. The photography and animations are beautiful and informative. Besides being visually impressive, the video explains the biology and engineering behind avian flight without becoming overly technical. Illustra Media's previous design video, Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of Butterflies, is also highly informative and visually stunning. Enjoy!


I have been lending out my DVD copy of this video to all my co-workers and skeptical friends. All have been extremely impressed with the video and content. It is a good conversation starter and non-threatening way to witness.

Movie details:
Flight: The Genius of BirdsFlight: The Genius of Birds (Not Rated)
by Lad Allen
Length: 62 min
Production Company: Illustra Media
Date published: May 13, 2013
Movie Rating: Not Rated
Language: English
ISBN-10: 804671231394
Last Modified July 29, 2013


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