A review of “Winged Migration” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: G for all audiences

Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes



The exacting director who got down and dirty with persnickety insects (“Microcosmos”) turns his meticulous eye towards the enthralling universe of birds and their ceaseless, criss-crossing migrations of planet Earth.

Jacques Perrin endeavors to know nature in its most intimate form, going to extraordinary lengths to capture the glory of a mysterious universe where humans do not tread.  To explore the beauty of birds in flight, Perrin utilized five crews of over 450 people (including seventeen pilots and fourteen cinematographers operating planes, helicopters, gliders and balloons) to follow a medley of bird migrations through forty countries and all seven continents.  Four years of hard work has yielded a visual feast and a prestigious Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

For eighty million years, birds have ruled the skies.  Always on the move, birds migrate with an aura of cryptic formation and secret visceral code. Migrations are a life and death proposition for winged ones, lengthy odysseys involving sustenance, reproduction, and ultimately rest and relaxation. The sun and the stars, along with keen memorization skills, serve as natural beacons to the creatures that travel thousands of miles to do the very thing they’re intrinsically programmed to do.

The statistics are extraordinary.  The Eurasian Crane logs 2500 miles from its home base to Spain and back.  The White Stork, a study in stately yogic poses, travels 3100 miles.  The Arctic Tern is awarded the Wings Beneath My Wings award for tallying up 12,500 miles per migration. A fascinating array of winged fellows (the stately Bald Eagle, gangly Greylag Goose, Red-Crowned Crane, darling Rockhopper Penguins, etc.) bring plenty of personality to the table, each with his own distinctive look and behavior.

The inherent drama of migration is enhanced with wry humor (hitching a free ride on a floating iceberg) and more than a little heartbreak.  A fast-paced crab attack on a vulnerable beached bird is downright terrifying, as is a critical mass of frenzied flapping wings that reeks of Hitchcock.  The routine determination of these creatures to reach their goal and endure against the odds speaks volumes about their spirit and obscure intelligence.

Perrin’s too-dry voice-over is all that separates “Winged Migration” from four-star glory.   His story is that of a promise; a promise to return and a promise to survive.