Thursday 28 March 2013

The Birds

Birds of prey: The iconic image from Hitchcock's The Birds (starring Tippi Hedren) which was reportedly based on a real incidence in California when flocks of seabirds crashed into houses and died

Photo of Tippi Hedren courtesy

It was 50 years ago today that moviegoers attended the premier of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" in New York City.  While the director based his screenplay on the 1952 short story of the same name by Daphne DuMaurier, his original inspiration was a real life incident that took place two years before in a California town, leaving its streets littered with dead birds and its occupants hiding inside their houses.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on August 18, 1961 that the town of Capitola, California, on Monterey Bay, was invaded by a flock of birds, running into house windows, raining down on rooftops, landing on vehicles and disgorging fish skeletons.  The streets were littered with birds.  In fact, more incidents were reported along the California coast from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar.  Policeman Ed Cunningham was driving around in his squad car that night when he was inundated by large birds.  He got out to investigate, but the birds were falling at such a rapid rate that he soon sought shelter in his vehicle.

Freaky: A police officer picks up dozens of dead sea birds which fell from the sky in Monterey Bay, California in 1961

Photo courtesy 

But why were the birds dying by the dozens?  A museum zoologist at the time maintained that the birds were confused by a heavy fog that night, got lost, and headed toward the street lights of the town.

Another theory states that the birds, identified as sooty shearwaters, had eaten plankton poisoned by algae that had drunk tainted water.  The dirty water came from leaky septic tanks that were hastily installed during the housing boom of the 1950's and 1960's.

Photo of sooty shearwater courtesy 

While the sooty shearwater's numbers declined in the following decades (it became an endangered species) Alfred Hitchcock's fame was on the rise.  His movie "The Birds" earned over $11 million at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award for special effects.  The film's star Tippi Hedren, won a Golden Globe award for her performance.    Miss Hedren, who played a character named Melanie in the movie, later gave birth to a little girl whom she named Melanie (actress Melanie Griffith).

The Master of Suspense: The Birds (1963) was British director Alfred Hitchcock's 49th film and based on a freak incident when birds fell from the sky in California several years earlier

Photo courtesy 

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