Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ Was Inspired By a Real-Life Bird Attack in California

Alfred Hitchcock is a well-known Academy Award-winning horror filmmaker who made a name for himself as the Master of Suspense. It was his unique take on horror and stylistic camera work that earned him that title. Hitchcock is considered one of the most prolific filmmakers in all of Hollywood history.

He earned 46 Academy nominations and six wins. Hitchcock is most well known for Psycho and The Birds. Hitchcock’s horror style is much more nuanced than many horror films of this day, but that doesn’t make his films any less horrifying.

Tippi Hedren and small children running from crows in a scene from 'The Birds'
‘The Birds’ | Universal Studios/Getty Images

In fact, one of his best-known films was inspired by a real-life event. Knowing that makes The Birds even more frightening, to say the least. 

The real and scary inspiration for ‘The Birds’

Cinema-goers were terrified by Hitchcock’s genius movie, The Birds, as they watched a young couple have their lives turned upside down as a small Northern town is suddenly attacked by all kinds of birds. The attacks increase in number and in viciousness as the movie progresses.

It is a scary premise for anyone. How can seemingly harmless birds start to kill the human beings who love them? What makes it even more scary is that the premise is inspired by real-life events. 

International Business Times reports that The Birds was based on a short story with the same name written by Daphne Du Marier in 1952. However, Hitchcock also showed interest in a real-life event that happened in Monterey, CA in 1961.

People living in Monterey Bay reported that huge flocks of seabirds rammed themselves against their houses. This incident unnerved the residents and took place just two years before the movie came out. No one could explain why the birds behaved this way and Hitchcock never explains the bird behavior in his movie either. 

It is believed that the reason the birds acted as they did is that they were poisoned. When the stomach contents of the crazy birds were examined, it was discovered that there were toxic algae on the plankton they ate. These algae can cause amnesia, disorientation, and seizures.

In the 1960s, there was a housing boom and toxic agents from septic systems may have leaked out. These toxic agents could poison the algae and then be passed on to the birds. 

How Hitchcock recreated the scene of attack 

With inspiration from a real-life crazy bird attack on his mind, Hitchcock had to figure out how to recreate the scenes on film. The end results in special effects did earn Hitchcock an Academy Award Nomination.

Sadly, it was Cleopatra that won the Academy Award for Special Effects. What did Hitchcock use for his birds? Hitchcock put in a lot of work using a combination of computer graphics and mechanical birds. He also trained hundreds of live birds to perform on camera. 

Shocking truth from the filming of ‘The Birds’ 

Tippi Hedren, who plays the main character in The Birds, had a very intense and reportedly abusive relationship with Alfred Hitchcock. People reports on Hedren’s account of filming with Hitchcock from her memoir, Tippi. She talks about several stressful and haunting moments during filming and even some inhumane conditions she was forced to endure. 

One incident, in particular, is especially harrowing. It was the famous “bedroom scene” in The Birds where her character endures a vicious attack from the frenzied birds. Hedren was promised by the filmmaker he would use mechanical birds.

However, she was informed on the day of filming by the assistant director that the mechanical birds weren’t working, and they’d have to use real birds instead. It was the final day of filming when live birds were loosely tied to Hedren while she was lying on the floor.

When “Action!” was said, the birds literally started pecking her and the bird wranglers threw live birds directly at her. The scene was so traumatic for the actor that she was ordered to take a week off by a doctor, even though Hitchcock fought the rest order saying he needed her for filming. The scene was also very traumatizing for the film crew to watch. 

It just goes to show why The Birds is a horrifying movie even to this day. The horror on the face of the main character is indeed quite real and that translates well to audiences who want a taste of a true horror film. 

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