Drone Disguised as Hummingbird Captures Incredible Footage of Monarch Butterfly Swarm

It's not very often that I watch a video online and react by literally gasping and audibly saying "wow." Watching Captain America stare down Thanos and his whole army, in an IMAX cinema, on a huge screen, was the last time I reacted in such a way. This time, even without the huge screen, resolution, and quality, this video is simply incredible. 

In a recent video from Nature on PBS, you'll be able to get super close to resting Monarch Butterflies. As they wait for the temperature to rise, they huddle together to keep warm. Without disturbing any of the butterflies, they've managed to take close-up footage of the butterflies. The way they've managed to do this is by disguising a drone to look like a Hummingbird. As described in the video, hummingbirds are not a threat to the monarch butterflies, and for that reason they don't react to it at all. 

Once the temperature rises sufficiently the butterflies take flight and the scene is simply magical. The butterflies are able to comfortably fly around and even land on the drone without being hurt. This is because the drone has been designed in a way to ensure it cannot harm the butterflies. As the narrator explains in the video, the drones moving parts have been shielded to keep them safe. 

This is precisely the kind of content I needed during this time and I'm very happy to have witnessed such beauty; even if it is just on a screen in my home.

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26 Comments

Stig Nygaard's picture

The stupid things with clips like this, is that I can only think about the camera filming the spycamera. It has been pretty much just as close at "the hummingbird". And some as the stuff that you are seduced to think are recorded by the hummingbird, are probably not. Like views straight up. Hummingbird just seems to be added to make it sound like a more spectacular story.
But fascinating scenery, also (or maybe even especially) ignoring the hummingbird story.

Usman Dawood's picture

That's what happens when you join this industry lol. You start to notice things you may not have done previously.

The worst is when you notice how a subject isn't in perfect focus during a movie or TV show. It shouldn't bother me but it does lol.

Helmut Steiner's picture

Yes. So true. The hummingbird shots are quite bad actually. All the good stuff is from another camera.

Ivan Zalesskiy's picture

That's so true man. Just yesterday I showed my mother a commercial and told her "look how amazing this is". She replied, "But this is terrible and stupid commercial". Only then I realized that I kind of didn't care about the content at all, I was just looking at the transitions and directing. Story of my life nowadays.

Victor Cesena's picture

Taco Bell had an ad a while ago that had fantastic classic Rembrandt lighting. I can imagine the was the inside joke by the ad creators. The hummingbird video may not be the best, but it is innovative.

Joe Jenkins's picture

This pertains more to stills, but I regularly (or did regularly, when I rode the subway in a non-covid-19 world, took snapshots of ads and texted them with things like 'look how bad this mask is.'

Michael Yearout's picture

I think is was a fascinating experiment and gave us glimpses into the butterfly world never seen before. So poo on you naysayers.

Ryan Mense's picture

Did it though? Clearly none of the drone shots gave us any better of a glimpse than the heavy duty real gear positioned in the same area. Hell, the most interesting shot related to the drone is when a butterfly briefly landed on it... shot from a different camera.

Ivan Zalesskiy's picture

I actually remember shots from this location from one of the older BBC shows, I think from early 2000. Don't remember the exact name of that documentary, but the shots were just as spectacular if not better. However, while from the videography standpoint it does not look very impressive, I think that drone (or drones like that for this matter) can be very useful for scientists, allowing to get close to skittish animals and record their behavior.

Though to be fair those butterflies were still cold from the night and they probably wouldn't fly anywhere if a truck passed by.

Ryan Mense's picture

Not debating that drones in general can be useful, sorry I wasn’t super clear. I specifically mean a hummingbird-looking drone giving exclusive glimpses. Honestly I’m not fully convinced based off this short clip that the hummingbird had a functioning camera at all. The magical world of editing and suggestive storytelling.

Ieuan Flowers's picture

Im not sure I agree about the functioning of the camera. To me its pretty clear that there are quite a few shots taken with it as you can see the small movements it makes to maintain its position in the air. I don't think you can add parallax in post.

Robby MacGillivray's picture

Put a smile on my face :)

Yin Ze's picture

not 8k60 so fail.

Kathy Cochrane's picture

I’m not a photographer. I’m a person who appreciates the beauty of nature, and as such, I thank you, Usman, for releasing this video. I once visited a eucalyptus forest in CA during a monarch butterfly mating. Thousands of butterflies were alite. Many in pairs as they tumbled downward in the mating process. Your video was even more spectacular. Beautiful. Hopeful. Especially in these times of worldwide anxiety, we need beauty. And we need the hope that nature spurns. Thanks, Usman.

Usman Dawood's picture

That's very kind of you to say, thank you. The video is from Nature on PBS, you should check their channel out. They have some great stuff on there.

Sam Jewel's picture

When animals come into contact with drones, they may experience physiological changes such as an increased heart rate, behavioural responses such as running or flying away, or even suffer stress that could disrupt their reproductive process.
Photography is going to another level, and is continually moving on...

URL: https://www.westaucklandelectrician.kiwi/

Yin Ze's picture

I have same response when I come into contact with Usman article :)

Usman Dawood's picture

Come on now. Stop it.

Mihnea Stoian's picture

lovely video, too bad YouTube's compression makes the most interesting parts almost unwatchable.

Brett Blignaut's picture

BBC did it better in 2009 with the Attenborough series "Life"

J J's picture

I love PBS but I don’t like the splicing together of multiple cameras to give a false impression. For instance the super shallow DOF at the end - I’m assuming this little hummingbird didn’t magically achieve that shallow dof

Morti Manesh's picture

Insane! I knew this day would come! But why is nobody freaked that surveillance drones now look like birds?