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It's a universal dream to fly like a bird.
To soar on wings into the heavens.
But it's nothing compared to the reality.
This is our planet seen as never before.
A bird's-eye view.
Theirs is a journey that covers the world.
Filled with astonishing natural events.
And hard-won rewards.
This is the world on the wing.
Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia.
The southernmost tip of South America.
The Andean condor reigns supreme over this remote wilderness.
It's a world dominated by glaciers and icy lakes.
A huge contrast to the lush rainforest
found in the continent's interior.
Here, the deep ravines and crevasses
sometimes trap the unwary,
and might provide the king of scavengers with a meal.
It's an ever-changing world.
Lumps of ice as big as apartment blocks carved from glaciers.
There's no food here today.
But condors think nothing of travelling 100 miles
in search of carcasses.
For a male with a hungry youngster to feed,
the best chances lie further inland.
The condor soars on wings that are larger than any other bird's.
His pin-sharp vision is second to none.
And he knows just where to look.
The breeding grounds of the guanaco.
These wild relatives of the llama
live in herds in the mountainous regions of much of South America.
Condors watch for opportunities as males fight it out over females.
Their below-the-belt techniques
include attacking each other's genitals.
Their defence is to sit on their assets.
All this machismo causes casualties,
and opportunities for a scavenger.
Caracara birds arrive first at every carcass.
They are the condor's food tasters.
Once they've eaten and not come to harm, he knows he's safe to land.
Once down, his natural majesty disappears.
He becomes a 14-kilo turkey.
The caracaras tuck in while they still have the carcass to themselves.
Once the first condor feeds, others are quick to follow.
Males, recognised by the comb on their head,
are usually first on the scene.
Females, who lack the flamboyant headgear, arrive next.
Brown juveniles are at the bottom of the condor pecking order.
Everyone knows their place. It's all very civilised.
Families feed happily, side by side.
But as they eat, someone is always on sentry duty.
The Patagonian fox has spotted the commotion. He hunts birds.
The first condor to feed is now at a disadvantage.
He's carrying 1.5 kilos of excess baggage in his crop.
Take-off isn't easy at the best of times,
but it's just got a whole lot more difficult.
He finally makes it - on a wing and a prayer.
600 miles east on the Patagonian coast,
a giant petrel is also looking for a meal.
Sea lion colonies
are this scavenger's favourite stomping ground.
But to find a meal, he needs a partner in crime.
The sea lion's greatest enemy, but friend to the petrel.
Young sea lions are innocent to the danger.
The petrel shadows the whales, waiting for them to attack.
He looks for likely victims.
The whales rely on speed and surprise.
Before she can try again,
she has to get seven tonnes of blubber off the beach.
No easy task.
A killer whale calf is learning the technique.
Only two whale families in the world know how to hunt like this.
At the end of the sea lions' breeding season, they get lots of practice.
Success for the whale means a feast for the petrel.
And these whales can kill several times a day.
Today, there's plenty to go round.
The petrels may only get the leftovers,
but there's still enough to be worth fighting for.
The interior of the continent is covered by the vast Amazon jungle.
Scarlet macaws understand the many secrets found within.
They are highly intelligent and travel as a family,
teaching their young the ways of the largest rainforest in the world.
The jungle covers 40% of the continent,
and macaws inhabit every part.
The birds migrate to wherever the best food can be found.
The macaws know which trees are producing seeds
and when fruits are ripe for the taking.
But not everything they eat is so delicious.
Many plants protect themselves with poisons.
After a morning feeding on toxic seeds and forbidden fruit,
the race is on to find something to settle their stomachs.
The macaws' detailed knowledge of the forest
tells them just where to go.
Along the riverbank are special sites
where a natural remedy can be found.
Smaller parrots have beaten them to it.
Mealy parrots are joined by rose-crowned parakeets.
The macaws are naturally cautious.
They use the little parrots as bait to see if any predators are around.
These parrots are here for the same reason as the macaws -
the healing qualities of the clay.
This special mud neutralises the toxins they've acquired
through a less-than-perfect diet.
The macaws are still too nervous to join the gathering.
Monkeys have arrived, putting them on edge.
But the spider monkeys are more a distraction than a danger.
He weighs up the risks...
..and takes his chance.
Time's up for the flocks of smaller parrots.
With the competition gone,
the rest of the macaws feel brave enough to come down.
The clay settles their stomachs, but it also works as a vitamin pill,
providing sodium and calcium supplements.
But the macaws won't get the chance to take their medicine.
A harpy eagle, their living nightmare.
The eagle kills.
But it's a monkey hanging from its talons.
South America's greatest aerial predator has a hungry chick to feed.
Fortunately, their favourite food is monkeys.
The macaws are safe this time,
but they must find their medicine elsewhere.
Back in Patagonia, the condor returns to his nest site.
His youngster is excited.
The condor's throat crop bulges with stored food.
The male is a devoted father.
Condors mate for life,
and usually have one chick at a time.
They care for their single child for two years
until it's old enough to survive on its own.
This couple have chosen an ideal spot to bring him up.
The sheer cliffs create huge updraughts,
perfect for lifting the condors' huge bodies in the air.
The rock face creates a perfect apartment block,
with holes that seem made to measure.
At six months old, their youngster is ready to fly.
She just needs some gentle encouragement.
Flight school begins with her father showing just how it should be done.
She isn't keen to follow.
It's hardly surprising.
Throwing yourself into a 200-metre drop requires a huge leap of faith.
Her mother makes the choice for her.
She's in flight, but still getting the hang of it...
and heads straight back to safety.
Dad encourages her to try again.
She has another go, but it's hardly any better.
Finally, she gets the idea.
She's looking more confident,
and even executes an impressive flyby.
Her father joins the new air cadet
and they fly together in perfect formation.
Despite an unpromising start,
her maiden flight has gone well.
She joins the more advanced aviators in the thermals.
She has earned her wings!
Macaws are still seeking the medicinal clays they need.
The jungle is mostly impenetrable,
and macaws either stay in the canopy
or follow rivers that wind their way through.
But deep in the forest is another clay-lick,
and the macaws know just where it can be found.
But here, the clay lies on the forest floor
a risky place for a tree-living bird to land.
Butterflies are after the same minerals that attract the macaws.
They, in turn, provide a snack for the sun bittern.
She uses the salty mud as a dipping sauce.
It also helps them slip down more easily.
Just as the macaws are about to risk it,
a strange new creature appears.
It's a tapir a distant relative of the horse
that lives in the deepest forest.
A rare sight even for birds that have seen it all before.
Tapirs use these jungle pools as mud-wallows.
Somewhere to cool off in the heat of the day.
Tapirs might be harmless, but macaws have reason to be cautious.
They aren't as nimble as the smaller parrots,
and so it's risky to land on the ground.
But if the macaws don't take their medication,
they will suffer the consequences,
and, unfortunately, black spider monkeys have jumped the queue!
This is the busy season at the clay-lick.
Ripe fruit is scarce and the alternatives are hard to digest.
This is one time no-one minds taking their medicine.
But the macaws are still weighing up the risks.
In the jungle, everyone is continually on edge.
But it's the nervousness of the monkeys
that could give the macaws the break they need.
A final few checks...
But then more visitors arrive.
Peccaries, wild relatives of the pig
that roam the jungle in gangs up to 100 strong.
This is not the macaws' lucky day!
Like other jungle animals, the peccaries also use mud
as a health supplement, but even they won't eat for long.
The macaws were wise to be cautious.
They have survived, but at the cost of a stomach-ache.
They must look elsewhere for a cure.
On the river's edge, black vultures are scavenging on a carcass.
They are the condor's smaller cousins,
replacing them in low-lying areas away from the Andes.
But the owner of the carcass isn't far away.
The vultures are used to this game.
The trick is not to be intimidated.
The jaguar saves her energy
it's not worth the effort.
Good things come to those who wait, and, like the macaws,
patience is a virtue in the jungle.
And there are plenty of ways to pass the time.
As they chill out,
a giant otter and her pups feel brave enough to show themselves.
They travel around in family groups
and are found in waterways throughout the Amazon.
As the hot sun takes its toll on the jaguar,
the otters vanish as quickly as they came.
Vultures live for moments like this, grabbing what they can
while the jaguar's distracted.
It's tough being a scavenger,
but black vultures can last two weeks without a meal.
There are plenty of other places to explore.
A favourite vulture location is Iguassu Falls,
one of the world's greatest waterfalls.
It straddles the border between Argentina and Brazil,
and is made up of 275 separate falls.
Half the water funnels into a vast chasm known as Devil's Throat.
The vultures love the turbulent winds created by the cascades,
and many make Iguassu their home.
But some birds live even closer to the falls.
Dusky swifts miraculously vanish as they arrive at the curtain of water.
It's a mesmerising trick
that involves flying through the cascades to reach the cliffs behind.
There's method in their madness, for this is where they build their nests.
The wall of water acts as a force field,
stopping predators in their tracks.
In the early morning,
the birds leave the falls behind as they set off to catch insects.
But the cascades attract plenty of other birds
that never leave its mist-filled canyons.
Hummingbirds love the flowers that flourish among the spray,
and visit them like clockwork.
Their brain may only be the size of a pea,
but it can remember the location of every flower
and the precise times they produce nectar.
At every feed, their brain starts an inbuilt stopwatch,
telling them when the flower will next restock its supplies.
They do this for hundreds of flowers,
creating a time management schedule that humans would struggle with.
They need to be efficient
wings that flap 70 times each second eat up energy.
But all this careful clock-watching would be an utter waste of time
if others steal their precious nectar.
Competition is intense.
Arguments are common as the hummingbirds fight for possession.
Ear-feathers flash a warning to rivals.
As the ultimate deterrent, they wield their bill like a sword.
After a day of marking time and arguing with the neighbours,
a cold shower goes down a treat.
It's now that the dusky swifts also return to the falls,
gathering in their thousands
before plunging through the cascades to roost.
Prime spots attract hundreds of birds
all crammed together for warmth and protection.
The relentless roar of the water can be heard several miles away,
but to the birds, it's like a lullaby soothing them to sleep.
They rest easy,
knowing that few predators dare face the raging torrents.
Now that the condors' youngster can fly,
the family are able to move to a new location.
It doesn't get much better than this
huge cliff buttresses offer perfect roost sites,
and the birds can simply step off the edge to soar into the heavens.
A single condor is a rare sight,
but here, dozens take to the air together.
The adolescent joins these early warm-up flights
before setting off with her parents to find a meal.
The condors rarely stray far from the Andes
as they need its winds for soaring,
but few carcasses can be found at this altitude.
Instead, they use the mountains as a springboard to the plains below.
Here, meals can come from the most unexpected places.
Even Santiago - the capital city of Chile -
offers opportunities for condors.
Its five million human inhabitants generate vast quantities of rubbish.
Even here, the rules of the wild still apply.
Caracaras are first to find the food.
They just have to dodge the garbage trucks.
But feeding among rubbish could be dangerous for the rare condor.
So the landfill operator provides decoy carcasses
at the edge of the site
to lure condors away from anything that could endanger their health.
They prove irresistible.
This unruly scrum consists of over 40 individuals.
It may look like a free-for-all,
but even here a strict hierarchy applies.
As before, the males take precedence over the females.
The youngsters are left arguing over the scraps.
Condors are long-lived birds.
This magnificent male is perhaps 50 years of age.
His extraordinary comb and wattle
set him apart from less impressive mortals.
He's already fed, so he's happy to let others take their turn.
He's treated with respect by other condors.
When he returns for seconds, they soon back away.
Paradoxically, in the shadow of one of South America's biggest cities,
this is the greatest gathering of condors on Earth.
Elsewhere, it's black vultures that are the city scavengers.
Rio de Janeiro is one of their favourite haunts.
Like Santiago, it is surrounded by mountains -
perfect for soaring birds.
And as sea breezes hit the high-rise buildings,
they create a carnival ride for the vultures.
Although city life has its pleasures, to find a more natural meal,
black vultures head for the vast grassy plains
that cover much of the continent.
In the rainy season, these grasslands quickly flood,
and birds converge on here from all over the continent.
Before the vultures migrate onwards to North America,
many stop off at one of the best wetlands of all
the Llanos in Venezuela.
This mecca for birdlife
covers an area nearly twice the size of Britain.
More species are found here than in the whole of the United States.
It's not just birds that make this flooded paradise their home.
The capybara, the world's largest rodent,
grazes on the aquatic plants that are found here.
Orinoco geese goose-step in the shallows.
While caymans add an element of danger.
Scarlet ibis are the most colourful visitors.
They love the giant water bugs that lurk here.
Most birds come here
for the 300 species of fish that fill the lagoons to bursting.
Skimmers have one of the most extraordinary ways of fishing.
They scythe the water with strangely mismatched bills.
The lower beak projects further than the upper,
allowing the skimmer to scoop up tiny fish as they fly.
They feed by touch.
Their head flicks down whenever they catch something.
Meanwhile, spoonbills use their aptly-named beak
to ladle fish from the water.
An egret uses his bill like tweezers.
The less skilful birds follow the experts,
willing them to drop something.
The scavenging vultures are among those that live in hope.
The osprey's technique is spectacular and rarely fails.
But the fish here can be huge, and there's always one that gets away!
It's a much-appreciated meal for the vultures,
one that will help fuel their journey onwards towards north America.
Back in the Andes,
the vulture's bigger cousin searches for another meal.
A condor's eye-view reveals some of Peru's greatest mysteries.
Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.
The Nazca Lines,
ancient desert carvings that depict the local wildlife.
And a monkey.
Little life survives in this desert now.
But once the condors reach the other side,
they enjoy one of the richest coastlines in the world.
The bays of Peru's Paracas coast are alive with thousands of sea lions.
It's worth the long journey here
for the promise this huge gathering brings.
Weighing in at 350 kilos, these testosterone-fuelled giants body-slam
as they fight for females, and casualties are inevitable.
The condor just needs to find a victim!
But the fighting males are too tough to be killed.
It's the baby bystanders that suffer the consequences.
The circling condors are joined by turkey vultures
all looking for their next meal.
Like black vultures, they are smaller relatives of the condors.
They are first at the carcass
and eat as much as they can before the condor arrives.
They lack the condor's more refined table manners.
The condor takes his time, then makes a grand entrance.
He gets the reaction he demands.
Here condors rule the roost. It's "All hail the king".
No turkey vulture would dare challenge a condor at his banquet.
At the end of the condor's journey,
he takes his rightful place as the overlord of the Andes.
For many of the vultures, it's time to head northwards up the coast.
Birds from all over the continent converge at the Panama Canal,
an artificial waterway that joins the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Every spring they join black vultures
and over two million hawks on a mass exodus out of South America.
The largest gathering of birds of prey in the world
passes over Panama city and into Central America.
Just over the border in Costa Rica, it's time for dinner.
The vultures head for the beaches.
Here, they expect a fine and nutritious meal.
They just have to wait for the tide to turn.
This is what they have come for - an olive ridley turtle.
Some can hardly contain their excitement...
..because these turtles never come alone.
This is the famous Arribada, the mass gathering of turtles.
As soon as they arrive, they lay their eggs deep in the sand.
But as quickly as the eggs appear, they are gone,
wolfed down by the hungry vultures.
But the turtles just keep coming,
oblivious to the hungry hordes that surround them.
As they try to bury their eggs, they dig up those of others.
It's a gift for the vultures.
With most of their eggs well and truly scrambled,
it looks hopeless for the turtles.
Especially when eggs start flying like a game of Ping-Pong.
But, just in time, the rain arrives
and the turtles get the break they need.
The vultures hunker down, but at least they won't go hungry
on the rest of their long journey north.
Back in the rainforest,
the macaws finally find a clay-lick where they can gather in peace.
As well as acting as a natural dispensary,
clay-licks are just as important for the macaws' social life.
It's where they get to know each other.
Here, macaws seem most at home, they only have each other to argue with
and they clearly enjoy every minute.
These colourful and lively get-togethers can last for hours.
The sites where medicinal clay can be found are just part of
the macaw's vast knowledge of the greatest rainforest on the planet.
They, more than any other bird,
represent a disappearing and mysterious world.
When all the macaws have had their fill,
they leave in a blaze of glory.
It's a privileged sight in a diverse and secret continent.
Next time, we will journey across Asia and Australia
to see these contrasting continents through the eyes of birds.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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