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The shimmering hummingbird darting among blossoms and the grim vulture circling a carcass
have something in common: a superb ability to adapt to a specific ecological niche.
(Taking to the air in the first place was an early sign of genius.) This adaptability, in
its endless complexity, is marvelously shown in Sir David Attenborough's exploration of
love, death, housekeeping, feeding, and migration in every corner of the avian world.
The five-volume video ranges from New Zealand's nocturnal kiwi, whose shape and gait
resemble a foraging opossum, to the oxpecker grooming cattle in the blazing African sun by
nibbling lice and savory flakes of dandruff. The shots of bird carpenters are equally
impressive. New England's industrious sapsucker carefully carves little wells in branches
to collect spring sap. She's rivaled by a paragon of diligent craftsmanship, a woodpecker
who chisels holes in dead trees to insert an acorn, carefully hammering it into place with
the concentration and skill of a master carpenter. Some of these avian artisans even use
tools. To dig out grubs, the Galpagos finch wields a cactus spine in its beak, while
the New Caledonian crow prefers a twig.
As for avian courtship, most impressive has to be the grebes, with their long, intimate
caresses of neck and beak, followed by rounds of prancing, dancing, and running
wing-to-wing along the shore.
It's not all gourmet dining, amour and nectar, of course. The squeamish viewer will
fast forward through the birds of prey, especially the ingenious victim's-eye shots, as
when the underwater camera shows the kingfisher's beak stab through the water to harpoon
an unsuspecting fish. And the spoonbill stork seizing a lungfish from the mud is a savage
Though scientists might quibble with Attenborough for skimping on discussions of
evolution (despite some fine animation of archaeopteryx and pterodactyls swooping over
primal seas), the series' range alone makes it a classic chronicle of nature's strange and