This Wildlife documentary special presents a complex research project: the perfect illusion of a long-distance flight is simulated in a huge artificial wind tunnel for local migrant birds, the aim being to find out how birds of passage cope with the extreme physical stress and in what way acquired behaviour and genetic programmes coalesce in migration.
Ignaz, a young swift, is the star of the Max-Planck Research Department of Ornithology in Seewiesen. He fell out of the nest and was taken to the scientists in Seewiesen. As it was too late for him to join his fellow swifts on their southward migration, the little bird is now spending the winter on training flights in a fascinating `device` - a huge artificial wind tunnel. Built especially for a large-scale research project in Seewiesen, it is 20 metres long and crammed with cutting-edge technology. With this apparatus scientists hope to cast light upon the secrets of bird migration. In order to motivate the birds to set off on a long-distance flight, Professor Gwinner and his team offer the birds a perfect illusion: a planetarium was installed above the wind tunnel and, on the floor of the flight chamber, film sequences show characteristic landscape elements. A man-sized ventilator equipped with 12 rotor blades produces air speeds of up to 160 kilometres an hour, i.e. gale-force winds. Temperature and air pressure can also be changed, flight conditions as at a height of 3,000 metres can be created without difficulty.
With the help of this aero-dynamic tunnel, the Max-Planck researchers hope to find answers to three fundamental questions: how do environmental factors, acquired behaviour and genetic programmes cooperate in birds` migration? How do the animals cope with the extreme physical stress of the flight? And what goes on in the brain of a bird flying for days on end without sleeping?
The documentary is a portrayal of everyday research in ornithology. Besides, it enables the viewer to experience the great flights of European migrant birds as they soar above oceans and deserts en route to distant continents.