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Film / Water Birds

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Water Birds is a 1952 short film (30 minutes) directed by Ben Sharpsteen.

It was made by Disney as part of its True-Life Adventures series of nature documentaries. It is a documentary about, well, water birds. The film captures the hunting patterns, mating habits, and everyday behaviors of a range of birds that live around water—terns, gannets, albatross, ducks, and more. (Birds native to North America, so penguins don't make the cut.). As with many Disney nature documentaries, the editing is done to make the behavior of the birds as anthropomorphic as possible.


  • Art Shift: The film opens with an animated shot of a hand and brush painting a scene of nesting water birds, before it switches to live action of that same scene.
  • Based on a True Story: The film starts with an opening credit insisting that nothing was staged, that "there are no fictitious situations or characters." How true this is hard to say, as the "True Life Adventures" were notorious for staging scenes, most notably the lemmings flung off a cliff in White Wilderness.
  • Love Triangle: Two male ducks are shown fighting over a female duck. The winner builds a nest with the female.
  • Mickey Mousing: Even with live-action! As a sandpiper strolls along the beach, bouncing its tail up and down for some reason, the narrator says that the sandpiper has "rhythm!" Naturally this is accompanied by a jaunty instrumental soundtrack that's synchronized with the bobbing bird.
  • Nature Documentary: Part of a long-running series of shorts and features, this one being a documentary on acquatic birds.
  • Narrator: Winston Hibler, the regular Disney nature documentary narrator, mixing wry humor and wonder.
  • Overcrank: Used frequently to show birds soaring and diving in slow motion.
  • Silence Is Golden: Near the end of the film, the narration stops, and for a good five minutes there's nothing but the strutting, splashing, soaring water birds.
  • Standard Snippet: The final scenes are scored to a rendition of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.
  • Title Drop: For both this film and the series, as the narrator talks about the habits of "water birds" while also referencing "this True Life Adventure".