Nature documentaries are a great way to relax (now more than ever) when the world around us gets to be too much. When you’re feeling stressed or in dire need of a break, sitting down and settling in for a movie or show is something we often do. However, nature documentaries can offer a special sort of peace, showing you the wonder and beauty of a meditative journey through nature all from the comfort of your own home.
There are all kinds of nature documentaries, from focusing on a specific species of animals, to an overall animal documentary, and even to other pieces of nature like glaciers or trees. However, with so many out there to choose from, it can be hard to decide which to watch. Many are on Disney+, but If you don’t have a specific idea in mind, check out this list of the best documentaries focused on nature to help you get started!
8 Wings of Life
Disney has a large collection of nature documentaries that their studio, Disneynature, helps to produce and distribute. One of these is Wings of Life, which focuses on everything in nature that has wings and their relationships with flowers. From birds to butterflies and bats to bees, many winged species are highlighted in the documentary. Many of these animals rely on flowers as sources of food, and the flowers in turn rely on these species to help pollinate them. This symbiotic relationship is vital to the ecosystem and the survival of these species and of flowers. You can learn more about this topic when you watch the documentary, which is one of the best available on Disney+.
7 March of the Penguins
Penguins have a very unique way of raising their young, which is captured in the majestic documentary March of the Penguins. This documentary follows one colony of emperor penguins who have a specific breeding ground on ice that has no danger of becoming too soft in the summer. This means the open water where they feed can be anywhere from a few hundred feet away to around 60 miles due to the freezing winters. It’s a grueling task to keep the eggs warm and the mothers fed, including going several months without food for the males watching over the eggs, but it’s a necessary sacrifice to bring new penguins to the world. Watch now on HBO Max to see the hardships young and old penguins must face every winter.
In another documentary supported by Disneynature, Chimpanzee follows one young chimpanzee in particular, nicknamed Oscar. He is tended to by his mother as he learns the basics of being a chimpanzee until an attack on their territory by a rival chimpanzee gang, where his mother is injured and separated from the group, and presumed dead. Oscar has trouble remembering what he was taught in her absence and tries and fails to get another mother to take care of him, as they are all occupied with their own children. Just as it looks like hope is lost, Oscar finds an unlikely caregiver in Freddy, the alpha male of the group. Chimpanzee is an emotional movie about motherhood and compassion, and is appropriately heartwarming; you can watch this unlikely duo grow together on Disney+.
5 America’s National Parks
There are designated parks around the United States that are protected lands, with all sorts of different wild flora and fauna living in the designated borders. America’s National Parks is a docuseries that highlights a few of these parks, one per episode. They’re not something everyone gets to experience in person, as they are spread far and wide throughout the country. Whether you’ve always wanted to visit one, or you have visited and miss your time there, this series will take you through the parks as you have never seen them before, as the show is visually stunning. You can watch it now with a Disney+ subscription, and if you don’t have that, the Barack Obama-hosted Our National Parks on Netflix is a good substitute.
4 The Blue Planet
After almost five years of filming, The Blue Planet took its time to bring the best of the ocean to life in this docuseries. Over the course of eight different episodes, explore the strange world of the sea and its creatures as each episode focuses on a different aspect of its animal life. From peaceful blue whales to attacking orcas, sharks feeding near the surface and scavengers in the deep, there’s a whole new world in the ocean that this eye-opening documentary highlights. The crew was even able to capture some creatures and behaviors that were never before filmed, on display for the first time in this series. If you’d like to see what goes on under the sea for yourself, you can watch this series on Amazon Prime Video or Discovery+.
3 Planet Earth
After the success of The Blue Planet, BBC Studios put in another five years to make the 11-episode docuseries called Planet Earth. With a similar structure to its predecessor, each episode focuses on a different subject — in this case, the series delves into a different biome or habitat. Explore the eerie depths of dark caves or the bright, vast greenery of the jungles and discover what each biome houses. There are some crazy flora and fauna out there, and each of them are dependent on that biome and what it has to offer them. If you’d like to learn more about the different biomes of the Earth, you can watch this series on Amazon Prime Video or Discovery+.
2 Our Planet
In the docuseries Our Planet, the issues of conservation are addressed. Nature conservation is an attempt to protect species from extinction, as well as maintaining natural habitats and protecting diversity in said habitats. While that might not sound like an issue on the surface, the real issue beneath it is the fact that it has to be done at all. This series highlights the impact we as humans have had on the environment, and is also about climate change as a whole and how it impacts all living creatures.
As we grow and expand, we’re removing land from these habitats, putting animals that relied on it in danger. Climate change makes it worse, too, as forest fires burn down the homes of many animals, and melting ice caps make it harder for polar animals to survive. To see the impact this has on the environment for yourself, the landmark series is available on Netflix.
1 Flight of the Butterflies
Flight of the Butterflies is a documentary focusing on one topic many people are already familiar with. In the spring, butterflies are present all over the United States and Canada. However, when it comes to the winter, monarch butterflies seem to disappear. This documentary includes a dramatic re-enactment of Dr. Fred Urquhart’s almost 40-year-long investigation into monarch butterflies. He discovered one of the longest known insect migrations as he studied the butterflies, finding how every year they all migrate from a specific place in Central Mexico into the United States and Canada, and then back again every year. If you’re interested in learning more about the migration of monarch butterflies, and how this migration pattern was discovered, you can watch the movie on Amazon Prime Video.