The Birds In Motion Project
If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps a video is worth a thousand photos? To fully appreciate any bird, it is ideal to observe it engaged in typical behavior in its natural habitat, vocalizing traditional songs and calls, and immersed with other species in its native environment.
Wings In Nature (aka WIN) is undertaking an ambitious project – Birds In Motion – with the goal of creating a video anthology featuring every bird species that breeds in the United States and Canada. The WIN video production team is working daily to produce a short HD video sequence of each of the 750-plus species in the ABA area.
Each video sequence depicts one particular species in various habitats, seasons, and regions where it would likely be observed by birders. Most sequences feature both male and female birds of different ages, displaying the corresponding plumages. Great effort is being taken to capture representative behaviors, such as feeding, preening, calling, singing, flying, swimming, nest building, courting, and/or nurturing young.
Designed to be an ongoing project, new sequences will be added to the Birds In Motion collection and existing sequences will be updated on a regular basis. The intent is for Birds In Motion to evolve as a tangible, contemporary depiction of the North American birding ecosystem.
Behind the Scenes
Birds in Motion began as a private collection of video clips depicting random bird behavior around the globe. This project has now evolved into a perpetual team effort to produce an ultra-high quality presentation of birds doing what birds do.
In May 2001, a late-season snowstorm hit northwest Montana where BJ Worth was observing a male Rufous Hummingbird in his backyard. When the large wet flakes landed on the tiny bird’s back, he would sink in slow motion down below the feeder, only to rise and reappear as the snow melted. BJ grabbed his camcorder to capture the comical scene. A couple months later, he came upon a Calliope Hummingbird raising a family on her impossibly small nest, he couldn’t resist the urge to document his discovery. By then he was hooked. Motivated by family, friends, and his lifelong fascination with birds, BJ began to venture beyond his backyard in search of bird behavior to film.
When his regular work took him far afield, BJ never failed to pack an extra bag with camera equipment. During the following eight years – never minding his limited experience as a birder and a videographer – he recorded over 800 species on four continents, steadily improving in both technical arenas.
After semi-retiring in 2010, BJ made his first trips with the primary purpose of recording bird behavior. He camped for a week in the Dry Tortugas, recording spring migrants from South America. He spent a week in Ohio filming more migrants during BSBO’s Biggest Week in American Birding. The resulting video clips depicted so much captivating and diverse bird behavior that BJ’s hobby morphed into an obsession.
Interwoven with his passion, BJ developed a keen interest in birding conservation, habitat restoration, wildlife research, landowner relations, and public outreach. Not only did he like to record their behaviors, he wanted to do so without disturbing the birds. By respecting each bird’s comfort zone, and using long telephoto lenses, blinds, and camouflage, he could capture typical behaviors in each bird’s natural habitat.
By 2013, BJ had filled 350 hour-long mini-video tapes with bird behavior – all vaguely labeled and stacked on a shelf gathering dust. He had no plans to do anything with this collection. For him, the thrill was the challenge in the field. He had a change of heart, however, after fellow birders encouraged him to make his extensive collection available to the birding community, as well as to the general public.
With no specific plan on how to do this, BJ’s enlisted his daughter Sara, who spent months digitizing 25,000 clips from the tapes – deleting those of marginal quality and saving the selects to a bank of hard drives. To keep the process moving forward, a gifted local birder, Joshua Covill, was invited to join the effort. Joshua had been leading field trips in Montana since he was a teenager, so he was well suited to review the entire collection – confirming ID, age, and gender, and sorting each bird/clip taxonomically.
By the end of 2015, this small team had processed the entire collection and was ready to start the arduous process of editing. Ironically, by that time HD TVs and monitors had become the accepted norm for viewing multimedia. Regardless of how dynamic the content, standard definition recordings didn’t hold up when compared to the stunning quality of HD. The hard reality was palpable: Thousands of clips portraying animated bird behavior were essentially outdated for public consumption.
After considerable soul searching, BJ chose to restart the entire project. In mid-2016, he upgraded to Canon’s top digital SLR so he could record video clips in 4K – a step beyond HD. Although this was a poor-man’s solution to proper digital cinematography, the high-resolution of 4K allowed clips to be cropped without compromising image quality – making up for the lack of a powerful optical zoom.
In the ensuing 18 months, BJ recorded the behavior of more than 250 species across the USA and Canada. With this stunningly vivid new material in the can, Joshua and Sara collaborated non-stop on the editing process. To enhance the audio, Montana birder, Bruce Tannehill, provided access to his outstanding collection of high quality recordings of bird calls and songs.
As of April 2018, at least one 4K clip of nearly half of the target species had been recorded, and rough edits for the first 100 species sequences had been completed. Soon thereafter, the Birds In Motion project was introduced to the greater birding community during BSBO’s Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio, and during the Wings Across the Big Sky Birding Festival in Kalispell, Montana.
Currently, the Birds In Motion team is collaborating with multiple Audubon chapters, birding experts, and production specialists to transform the edited sequences into various professional presentations for birders and the general public.
All the completed Birds In Motion video sequences are available for enthusiasts to stream online at no cost through the end of 2018 – the Year of the Bird. All viewers are highly encouraged to share their impressions about this project and its presented content.