Stunning footage of flying birds from a ultralight plane in the flock

Here is some unbelievably mesmerizing video showing a man flying with birds that he rescues and trains to migrate.  According to Storytrender and National Geographic, the man is 58-year-old Christian Moullec of France, who started training lesser white-fronted geese (Ancer erythropus) to fly from Germany to Sweden in the 1990’s to reintroduce them into the wild. These flights took weeks, as National Geographic’s interview notes:

How did you get started in flying among birds?

In 1995 I wanted to reintroduce lesser white-fronted geese into the wild in Lapland [north of Sweden]. At the beginning it was very difficult for me. The birds didn’t want to follow me.

Do you have a favorite story from flying with the birds?

My favorite was a big flight with 33 lesser white-fronted geese, from northern Sweden to southwestern Germany. My wife was on board with me and she was [five months pregnant and] expecting our first son. The trip lasted 5 weeks. With my wife and some biologist friends, we hope to continue to make other migrations for the success of the reintroduction project of lesser white-fronted geese in the wild.

Now, from March to October, in the season of non-migration, he takes tourists up to fly with the birds in a camera-equipped two-person ultralight aircraft, using the money to fund his conservation efforts. Watch the video below to see some amazing footage. You’ll also see the tourists try to touch the flying birds, something I wouldn’t want to do. But according to Storytrender it’s dangerous only for the tourist:

The Frenchman encourages passengers on his microlight to reach out and touch the birds mid-flight although admits that can sometimes end in disaster.

He said: “My birds are happy to be touched but generally birds do not like to be caressed in flight because it can unbalance them.

“If a bird is unbalanced during flight they can poo on the passenger and that has happened once or twice.”

Watch and be amazed, but be sure to watch the whole thing and put it on the biggest screen that you can. (One person brought an accordion up there!)

The beauty of this almost makes me weep. If you want to have a “vol avec les oiseaux”, you can get the details here. It’ll cost you 636 euros, but I’d do it in a heartbeat. Where else can you get the chance to fly right up among the birds? Next time I’m in France. . . .


  1. Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    To witness them up close; pushing themselves to the limits of their endurance…astonishing.

    • lkr
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      “To the limits of their endurance” — not really, they are in aerobically-sustainable cruise mode, and can do this effort for many hours. And of course, they readily take to what we bicyclists call “motor-pacing” You’ll see that when the lead birds drop into the “tickle zone” just in front of the passenger, they are able to glide with hardly a wing-beat. Essentially surfing on the bow wave of the craft. That’s a particularly sweet spot, but the general strategy of flocking is to find the wing-tip vertices of the bird ahead in the diagonal line. And only a chump stays at the front..

      • Posted January 7, 2018 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the clarification. I also omitted the presence of fluid dynamics in flight…

  2. GBJames
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This is soooo cool.

    The International Crane Foundation (in Baraboo, WI) used to do this sort of thing in an effort to increase Whooping Crane populations. The flight were abandoned when it was found that they didn’t help.

  3. mfdempsey1946
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    This footage is wonderful.

    It also gives me a reason to call attention to director Carroll Ballard’s sadly forgotten 1996 movie “Fly Away Home” (starring Anna Paquin, Jeff Daniels, and Dana Delany), which is about much the same subject as this material.

    “Fly Away Home” dramatizes the story of a man named Bill Lishman, who in 1986 was heavily involved in a similar real-life story.

    Ballard has been a wizard with films involving nature, animals, and people: “The Black Stallion” (1979) being his most famous production. Others — both excellent — include “Never Cry Wolf (1983) and “Duma” (1992, which will probably be his last, since he is 80 now).

    Anyone who is moved by the images in today’s post will surely find many comparable rewards in “Fly Away Home”, too, along with its companions in Ballard’s filmography.

    • yazikus
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I really enjoyed watching it just last week! Would recommend to anyone with kids, or an interest in geese.

    • Blue
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Sorrowfully, mfdempsey1946, Mr Lishman
      just last week upon Dr Coyne’s birthing day
      … … died.


    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Trigger warning: Jeff Daniels looks startlingly young in this movie.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely wonderful! What an incredible and moving experience it would be!

  5. darrelle
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely with you Jerry. I nearly cried and I’d do that in a heartbeat given the opportunity.

    • Posted January 7, 2018 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      The look or sheer joy on the lady’s face did it for me.

  6. Frank
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Now that put a smile on my face ! Stunning footage.

  7. yazikus
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I just rented Fly Away Home from the library to watch with kiddo after seeing similar news. Birds are amazing.

  8. Frank Bath
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Extraordinary, with wonderful views of Le Mont Saint Michel.

    • nicky
      Posted January 7, 2018 at 1:30 am | Permalink

      And the ‘bocage’ landscape.

  9. rickflick
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Great views of the birds against ancient architecture.

  10. Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I fairly cried out in awe and wonder. But why did one of the passengers bring an accordian??

  11. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a clip of David Attenborough boating in vee formation with a family of greylag geese flying alongside.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Certainly get some great video of the birds in flight that you could only get this way. Ultralights are just about the only affordable way to do private flying these days. You do not need a license to get into ultralights.

    • rickflick
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      It’s especially expensive and restricted to fly in Europe. In the US it’s still doable but it’s getting harder to afford.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Yes, when I was doing it many many years ago I was flying around in my grandfather’s J3 cub and burning his gas. At that time you could get a J3 in pretty good shape for under $5,000. Today, if you can find one it would be at least $30,000 I would guess.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Ultralights are just about the only affordable way to do private flying these days.

      Odd, I’ve know a number of people who’ve flown privately over the decades. It’s an expensive hobby for sure, but not an unreachable one. Examples of “tricks” I’ve seen used to make it affordable include owning a plane which you lease to an instructor (splitting maintenance costs) so you can do your flying on wet Wednesdays, and getting “log book hours” behind the stick of a glider as a cheaper way of logging the necessary annual hours to maintain your PPL. As someone else pointed out, a powered aircraft can turn into a glider at any of a hundred points in the Critical Path of safe operations. I remember one colleague who sold his home and moved wife and kids into spare rooms at his parents house, to fund converting his PPL into a Commercial license. I was working with him offshore on 2001-09-11, and he was not a happy bunny to see his career plan going up in smoke with the buildings. He stuck with it, but he was inspecting gravel for several years more than he expected. Flying Airbuses now, last I heard.

      You do not need a license to get into ultralights.

      Oh, I bet you do need some sort of license. Maybe not a PPL, but something.

  13. Christopher
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful but not for me. Flying with geese clearly requires something this here grounded chicken lacks. Seriously, that thing looks like it was built out of the same stuff as those old folding lawn chairs populating my early ’80’s youth!

    On a more serious and sadder note, Jerry Van Dyke has died.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the materials in the ultralights are pretty good and generally of aircraft quality. That includes the bolts and nuts. The most likely problems are with the engines, which are usually 2 cycle types. However, engine failure usually just means you need to land.

      • Christopher
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        I don’t doubt their strength, but I’m still a chicken at heart, quite unlike another person whose death has just been announced. Gemini, Apollo, and space shuttle astronaut John Young has died.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted January 6, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          Yes, seems like far too many lately. Always thought Jerry Van Dyke was the funny one.

  14. Andrea Kenner
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink


  15. rickflick
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    There are quite a few other videos on YouTube showing birds from ulra lites. Here’s one with more exotic backdrops and less emphasis on the humans. Good music too.

  16. Hempenstein
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    At first, “[t]he birds didn’t want to follow me.”

    Not surprised at that, but how did he get them to start?

    And @ ~2:40 – very dinoasurish-looking.

  17. DryEraser
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Link to video doesn’t work for me. My problem?

    • DryEraser
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Never mind.

  18. DryEraser
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    No predators in their sky, I guess. The birds don’t seem intimidated by the machine/human a bit.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      No doubt they imprinted on the machine/human and think they are flying with their mom.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        If I recall previous versions of these videos, the hoomins incubate the eggs in a machine and are the only beings present when the eggs hatch, so the chicks imprint on them. Then it’s the backbreaking tedium of hand-rearing, fledging, etc until the young birds are ready to make their first migration, when they follow the microlight and learn the route. At destination, they then mature, become independent from their (foster-) parents, and it’s time for making money to fund the next year’s round of population boosting.
        In a very real sense, the birds think they are flying with their parents.

  19. DryEraser
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Querying “birds” on youtube gave me results like “birds” or “mouse” for cats. There is a cat bias there.

  20. Posted January 7, 2018 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Another such film is “Winged Migration”, an award-winning documentary using ultralight aircraft and radio-controlled model aircraft to follow various species of birds on migration routes between Europe and Africa. Absolutely mesmerizing.

  21. Vaal
    Posted January 7, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Amazing footage.

    I did an ultralight flight over a game park in South Africa (I wasn’t driving of course).
    Aside from the beauty of soaring over elephants, giraffe etc, the particular experience of flying that way was exhilarating. It was by far the closest approximation of being able to fly like a bird. It’s amazing how similar it felt to my dreams in which I can fly.

    Minor note: I always feel more confident about flying when the pilot has a mustache.

    Make of that what you will.

  22. Posted January 7, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    As an ex-pilot (health grounded me) I nearly cried for all the reasons stated by everyone else. I’d see hawks and eagles when I flew in my light homebuit aircraft but the of course didn’t want to fly with me. The aerobatics they performed to get out of my way was impressive. The crane flocks that gathered around the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are protected so I watched them from a distance.

    These videos are beautiful and inspiring.

    • Posted January 7, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I have a mustache. Definitely made me a better pilot. Has something to do with sensing airspeed! 🙂

  23. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    … but what about FRIGATE BIRDS!

    Frigate birds or bust!

    Come ON!

    … ^^^^ trying for unexpected and witty comment here. Not really working. I tried.

  24. timsands
    Posted January 8, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Sailplane, hangglider and paraglider pilots often have the privilege of sharing thermals with birds – it’s an absolutely joy. Here’s a thread of pilots discussing the flying personalities of different species:

    What feels even better is when you are circling alone in a thermal, birds see you are climbing better than them so come over to join you!

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