Nature documentaries

The 7 Best Nature Documentaries for All Your Tree-Hugging Urges

Nature’s calling.
July 28, 2018
7 mins read

The great outdoors: It has some of the best features earth has to offer. Fresh air, volcanoes, warm beaches, beautiful animals and huge mountains. There are also natural disasters on the daily. Oh, and there are bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

The earth has ups and downs, and on both ends, those extraordinary events take place in your backyards. No one can experience it all, however, and sometimes there are events that you don’t want to experience in person.

With these nature documentaries, you can see all the wonders of the planet without the danger or the travel expenses. People have a responsibility for the land; you might as well see what the fuss is about.

1. “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”

Ken Burns’ documentaries always manage to capture a sense of wonder and intellect that isn’t always portrayed so acutely, and this nature documentary is no exception. The history of the national parks is paired with the names and faces of the people who loved the land with a fervor that bordered on religious.

This series of videos in the mix of nature documentaries is more history-based, but it has videos and pictures of North America as the land once was, even when humans exploited the now-protected land for lumber and other resources. Journal excerpts from giants in naturalism like John Muir capture how people can fall in love with the West.

2. “Nature’s Weirdest Events”

Nature is weird. Sometimes a red haze descends upon Sydney, Australia, on a morning commute. Sometimes you open your front door to see a wall of snow blocking your path. “Nature’s Weirdest Events” delves into the why and how of some of the strangest and most beautiful events on Earth, including a completely frozen harbor and mice infestations in southern Australia.

Nature documentaries
The Cappuccino Coast, as it is affectionately called, is a strange Australian phenomenon covered in the documentary’s second episode. (Image via BBC)

These segments of nature documentaries often establish the adaptations nature makes around manmade structures and life in its ecosystems. It is wonderous to watch how quickly and intelligently nature adjusts itself to survive in a world humans change at an alarming rate.

3. “Great Yellowstone Thaw”

The earth is warmer than it used to be, and the biggest indicator of this change is animal behavior. “Great Yellowstone Thaw” observes the odd changes in the behavior of the most popular animals in Yellowstone National Park, and how they survive despite the challenges of waking up from hibernation early, for instance.

Narrator Dr. Kirk Johnson leans toward the informational in his descriptions and utilizes scientists and bear experts to safely navigate in the snow and gain more close-up information about the changes in the park. The episodes feel like a nature explorations as they wander near owls, bears and wolves that live in the park.

4. “Cosmos”

“Cosmos” is the one true oddball edition to this nature documentaries list. Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts the show, and the content he covers is the natural history of literally everything. The expanding of the definition of nature encompasses the littlest microorganism to the largest galaxies.

Nature documentaries
In “Cosmos,” Neil deGrasse Tyson travels in his Spaceship of the Imagination through space in time. (Image via Wired)

The wonders of the Earth are not confined to the land. The history of everything is as much about people as it is about the lives of animals and the land that you and I stand on. If you want to learn more about the technical side of life, look here.

5. “Planet Earth”

David Attenborough narrates this classic nature documentary. His voice is soothing even when describing the formation and destruction of volcanoes. The series delves into how the land and the animals came to exist in their current state. Exploring some of the more difficult-to-reach locations on the planet, the show certainly shows the magnificent adaptations of the landscape and those that inhabit them.

One of the animals included in the “Planet Earth” series is the Gelada baboon, a monkey species found only in the highlands of Ethiopia. Their adaptations for living in a rather barren location are worth noting, as they consist on a diet of mostly grass and live in ridiculously high altitudes. Realistically, watching a video like “Planet Earth” is one of the only ways to even know about these beautiful animals.

6. “NatureVision TV”

“NatureVision TV” is minimalistic. Only containing video of the natural world and calming music, it is weirdly entrancing despite the lack of action.

Nature documentaries
“NatureVision TV” creates a calming effect through images of the “world’s most stunning and inspiring places of beauty.” (Image via YouTube)

I understand that watching an episode of one of these nature documentaries sounds mundane compared to “Game of Thrones.” However, “NatureVision TV” is worth including in this list because of the combination of gorgeous visuals and soothing orchestral music. The documentary is the type you would listen to while studying or trying to fall asleep or even watch at the dentist’s office while waiting for your appointment. If you’re just looking to enjoy nature for the sake of aesthetic, then this option is ideal.

7. “Wild North”

This inclusion in the list of nature documentaries explores life in three biotopes in Norway with an array of birds, bears and elk in the quiet north. The narration of the animals is thorough and beautiful, as some of these creatures are seen in few other places.

There are nature documentaries with concentrations in other parts of the world, but Norway is striking because of the intense cold weather in the north. How could anything live there? Plenty of life thrives, and this documentary explores their habitats.

BONUS: “Neature Walk” series

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A 2009 YouTube video series from the user vicscrappyvideos, it contains the endearing narration of an enthusiastic nature fan who wants to share his love of the natural world with the internet. His sometimes chaotic yet sweet ode to nature earns him an honorary spot on this list in hopes that everyone can be as excited about the world as him.

After all, “it’s pretty neat.”

Allison Kestler, Augustana College

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Allison Kestler

Augustana College

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