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Flight: The Genius of Birds (DVD and Discussion & Study Guide) Review by Karen Waide and Lori Hooten

Illustra Media
IDEA Center
http://www.ideacenter.org
Illustra Media:
(877) 436-0955
PO Box 636
La Mirada, CA 90637-0636
(858) 337-3529
Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center
1480 Moraga Road, Suite I, PMB 241
Moraga, CA 94556
http://illustramedia.com/

I LOVE finding new resources that help teach the children about the wonders of nature. Products that show that it makes no sense to believe that all that we see has happened by chance or accident. It is so important to me that the children learn that there is design in this world, from our immense universe, down to the teeniest of creatures. As you can imagine, I was so excited when I learned I was going to get to review Flight: The Genius of Birds from Illustra Media, a company that shows that there is a scientific case for design. The DVD we were sent is the first in their “The Design of Life” series.  I was also sent a Discussion & Study Guide which was written by Ryan Huxley.

Flight: The Genius of Birds is a documentary that is approximately one hour in length. There are 7 “chapters” on this DVD, plus the credits:

  • Prelude
  • Flight
  • Anatomy
  • Hummingbirds
  • Starlings
  • Arctic Terns
  • Design
  • Credits

Each of these sections flows seamlessly from one to the other. The documentary begins with a quote from Voltaire, which states, “All nature cries aloud that there is a supreme intelligence.” The prelude follows, with clips of all sorts of different creatures. It talks about the remarkable menagerie of unique animals that inhabits our earth.

We then move into the actual program on flight, beginning with the query, “How do they fly?” Paul Nelson, who is a Philosopher of Biology, relates what his father told him, “If something works, it's not happening by accident.” He then states, “Successfully flying, I mean really flying, controlled flight, it's going to have to be coordinated, carefully engineered.” This documentary then goes on to show, just how birds have been “engineered.”

A bird is described as “an ultimate flying machine.” There are over 9,000 species of birds and they “thrive in every environment.”

We are shown the development of the birds, from their development in the egg, to being reliant on their parents as nestlings, to how their parents will eventually coax them out of the nest after their wings have fully developed.

The documentary then explains the importance of birds' anatomy in relation to flying. We are shown how birds' hollow bones, their different feathers, and their muscular system all work together to enable a bird to fly.

We then take a closer look at three specific types of birds: hummingbirds, starlings, and arctic terns.

Hummingbirds:

First we are introduced to the Nano Air Vehicle which is a small, hummingbird shaped, hovering aircraft which has fantastic flight capabilities that were patterned after the hummingbird. However, we then see that NAV pales in comparison to a real hummingbird. So many details about the hummingbird were unknown to me. I did know that the wings beat in a figure 8, but I was unaware that there are also two different patterns, depending upon what maneuver the hummingbird is demonstrating. We also learn about the function of the tail, the hummingbird's unique tongue, its heart rate, and feeding needs.

Starlings:

We then head over to England to learn about the starlings and delve into such things as the spectacular murmurations they exhibit as they come home to roost after a long day. The documentary discusses how far they travel daily, how many birds will be in a single flock, how they deal with predators, and most intriguingly, how they avoid collision while flying in those previously mentioned murmurations. I have to admit, it sure is something, watching them fly in such precise formations. It is actually described as “a ballet.” We are left with the fact that there is still so much more that they don't know about these murmurations.

Arctic Terns:

It was now time to head to Greenland to learn about the amazing migration of the Arctic Tern, also known as the “Bird of the Sun.” These birds live most of their lives in the air as they travel from pole to pole. They live in the Arctic region from May to August and then make their way to Antarctica to live from November to April, when they head back to the northern hemisphere to mate, lay eggs and raise their chicks before having to turn around and do it all over again. This migratory life has been known since the 1960's, but details have only just recently been discovered by Carsten Egevang from Denmark. The documentary describes his study that uses geolocators to track the movement of the birds. Mr. Egevang made some unexpected discoveries about their flight path, among the discoveries being that the assumed path of the arctic tern was incorrect. We are left with the admission that though a lot has been learned, there are still many unsolved mysteries.

After focusing on three specific bird species and their unique features, we get a closer look at the design of birds, delving in to why it would be impossible for flight to have come about due to natural selection. We look at the intricate design of one single feather and are made aware of the ridiculousness of trying to say that it evolved. From the hollow shaft to the vane, and the barbs, barbules and hooklets, the feather is so detailed there has to be design involved. Not only that, but all of the birds' systems need to work together to achieve successful flight. Such as the heart, respiratory system, digestive system, navigational system, vision, and instincts.

What I found truly disturbing was that there are biologists that will admit that nature is designed, but they aren't allowed to think that way. Ann Gauger, a developmental biologist stated, “It's so hard not to use language that suggests a purpose and design in biology, because everywhere we look, we see purpose and we see design, and yet we're told over and over, it just looks like it's full of purpose, it just looks like it's designed for a function.” And biologist Timothy Standish from the Geoscience Research Institute admitted to why this is. He stated, “There is a reason why a rule like that needs to be imposed. Because if it isn't, you're going to see that it's designed. That what our brains logically tell us.”

I would also like to talk about the Discussion & Study Guide that I was sent, courtesy of ideacenter.org and Illustra Media. This 56 page booklet begins with an introduction and is then divided into five sections of questions, followed by 29 pages of answers. The first two sections combine some of the chapters of the documentary. Section 1 focuses on chapters 1 and 2 and section 2 focuses on Chapters 3 and 4. Sections 3-5 are each focused on one of the remaining sections. These sections are then further divided into different kinds of questions: Basic, Discussion, and Discussion Questions Beyond the Video. It was quite helpful that the time for each chapter is located toward the top of the page. The basic questions consist of fill-in-the-blank questions along with true/false questions, multiple choice and short answer questions. The discussion questions were a bit over the heads of my children, so I didn't really go into them. We will have to get the book and DVD back out when they get a bit older. 

I actually used the guide as more of a viewing guide. I would ask the children some of the basic questions before we watched a section, so they would have some specific ideas to be focusing on. I don't think they enjoyed having the DVD interrupted in order to discuss the questions, but if I waited until the end of each chapter, I do not think they would have remembered the details.

This was a fantastic documentary. I feel it did a wonderful job explaining why flight and birds have got to be a result of design as opposed to random chance. There is discussion of Darwinian evolution, particularly when they are discussing the idea of birds evolving from dinosaurs. However, it is admitted that these ideas are “highly controversial.”

I would like to mention that though an intelligent designer is being given credit for creating, the God of the Bible is not mentioned. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about that. But, I realize, it is important to get people to understand that there is design, and if they can admit that, then maybe they can then be open to the truth of the Bible.

Though there was nothing that would make me hesitate in letting my children, who are 9, 8, 6 and 4 years old, watch this documentary, there was a lot that was over their heads. They seemed to enjoy watching all the video of the different birds, and they definitely learned quite a bit. My oldest daughter really enjoyed learning more about hummingbirds. Both of my older daughters loved that we learned that the hummingbird's tongue is made of two parts that it splits into in order to drink nectar. In addition to being intrigued by the unique design of the tongue, they also loved learning there were three different wing patterns. So, I would say that this DVD is appropriate for young children, but it appears to be better suited for middle school ages and up.

Throughout the documentary, there are fascinating images playing across the screen. Occasionally we will see the scientists who are speaking during the program, but most of the time, while they or the narrator speak, we are seeing breathtaking views of the creatures being talked about or animated images detailing the information. At times when there is no commentary, instrumental music is playing.  This documentary is very well done, and professionally put together. They do a wonderful job showing that natural selection just doesn't make sense, and there has to be an intelligent designer involved. This is a DVD I highly recommend. Flight: The Genius of Birds can be purchased for $15.95.

- Product review by Karen Waide, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2017

Another Review:

Beauty is all around us. In everything, there is much to examine, much to learn. Illustra Media's, Flight: The Genius of Birds shows us this by studying the intelligent design behind a bird's ability to fly. This hour and a half long documentary features stunning videography and photography throughout.

Flight brings together the scientific background of how a bird is able to defy logic in flight and observational studies of instinct. Along with interviews from leading scientists in the field, this video utilizes 3D animation, drawings, slow-motion video and more to help the viewers immerse themselves in the understanding of flight.

One of the amazing features of this documentary is the outstanding videography. Filmed in various locations around the world, the viewer is taken right into the world of a bird. Whether it is seeing inside the bones to examine why they are light or into the midst of a flock of thousands of starlings to see how they fly together without running into each other, the scenes are packed with new experiences and interesting learning.

Intelligent design is often ignored in science but it is front and center in this video. That is what makes this video somewhat unique – intelligent design is supported and strengthened. In fact, intelligent design actually drives much of the understanding of flight and the scientists support that view point.

In showing intelligent design in birds, there are several species studies a bit in depth in the video.

  • Chicken eggs are discussed because they are common and it is known that all birds develop in basically the same way. Therefore, the chicken eggs are great examples of what goes on inside the egg.
  • Hummingbirds are analyzed from their skeletal systems to the muscular system to their metabolic system. Fascinating 3D animation helps us understand even the action of the hummingbird's straw-like tongue.
  • Starling flocks can number in the thousands and they have a stunningly beautiful fluidity and unity. This is shown through animation and video that is just amazing. 
  • Arctic terns have intelligent design built into their nature that we see in their migrations. The study of the migrations is fascinating as these birds migrate between the North and South Poles.

In addition to the DVD, we received a Discussion & Study Guide from the IDEA Center. Created in conjunction with Illustra Media, this guide accompanies Flight: The Genius of Birds. It provides comprehension and discussion questions and topics that go right along with the video. Each chapter in the guide is created to flow with the video. Each page has a note at the top that shows the elapsed time on the video that corresponds to that chapter section. That makes it very easy to break this up over several days or class periods. This guide can be used either with a group or individually. With the answers included, this guide is a nice way to emphasize the materials and reinforce the learning from the video.

From beginning to end, Flight: The Genius of Birds is a beautiful experience. If your family is anything like mine, videos are a favorite way to learn. Videos that are well done teach mountains of information in a relatively short period of time. There is not much more that a parent or teacher could want than for learning to be a joy. And when the video is exquisitely done, as Flight is, learning becomes a joy.

—Product review by Lori Hooten, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November, 2016

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