Unanswered Questions: Murderous Birds from Alfred Hitchcock… The Horror of it All

Murderous birds from Alfred Hitchcock
Murderous birds from Alfred Hitchcock

Fascination by mysterious circumstances spells horror! I’ve always wondered about this. What made the birds attack in the 1963 movie “The Birds”? The film starred Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor as the two main characters.  Hitchcock had a dark side in terms of how he treated his actors and was obsessed and controlling with Tippi for seven years under contract, despite the positive times on the set.  Mr. Hitchcock was smart to carefully couch his comments and never truly reveal his premise. How and why would birds murder?  The birds /seagulls (scavenger bids) and crows attacked singly and collectively. The presentations were stark and eerie, in particular the ending scene.

Hitchcock says that a general theme was “man taking nature for granted makes him complacent, thus believing that he is the master of everything.”

Is there something deeper than “plain horror” just like the “hidden messages” in the Beatles recordings??

 My question/theory – Could there be an even more diabolical message applying to people such as don’t try to cage anything, including people. Look what happens when we cage people, they just get worse!   Such analysis would be considered “poppycock” by Hitchcock, no doubt.

Synopsis from a movie reviewer’s perspective characterizes it as story involving a potential romantic triangle with a wealthy, spoiled Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), handsome Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), and schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). The human story begins in a San Francisco pet shop and culminates at the home of Mitch’s mother (Jessica Tandy) at Bodega Bay, where the characters’ sense of security is slowly eroded by the curious behavior of the birds in the area than a sea gull swooping down and pecking at Melanie’s head. The onslaught begins, and there’s virtually no letup. Fandango

Initial Attack – Boat scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxfJZy5_x8A

Schoolyard-Playground Scene- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydLJtKlVVZw; (Children’s song as background music!)

Ending Scene: Potential attack- Deadly silent…Hundreds of birds watching….waiting from telephone wires, tree branches and the ground witch was so covered with birds, the landscape could not be seen! They waited to attack as precariously walk to the car with the caged original “love birds” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMwvHLe5m3g

“Can I bring the love birds, Mitch? They haven’t harmed anybody.”  (Nooo!)

History and contemplated original ending – YouTube: The Golden Gate Bridge: “Too impossible to Film” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JupbvUq5OE0

  • “The Birds”  was based on a short story of the same title written in 1952 by Daphne Du Maurier;
  • The real impetus took place two years before the release of the film. It was based on a real-life event that happened in 1961, in the Monterey Bay California area. Reportedly, huge flocks of seabirds collided against many houses for unknown reasons, unnerving residents. “Thousands of disoriented seagulls flew “suicide missions “into houses along the Monterey Bay coast line, further south of San Francisco.
  • The True Answer?

“Scientists at LSU finally discovered that the deaths happened because the birds had been poisoned by a nerve-damaging toxin called domoic acid found in the birds’ natural diet of anchovies and squid (that had both eaten plankton with concentrated levels of domoic acid). Scientists discovered that toxin-making algae were present in 79% of the plankton that the creatures ate. The acid caused bird brain damage, or at the least, created confusion, dizziness and seizures. The acid had possibly come from leaky domestic septic tanks in the area rather than from suspected farm fertilizers.” http://www.filmsite.org/bird.html

How about a couple of Freudian Theories – (Oh Brother!)

It is about three needy women (literally ‘birds’) – and a fourth from a younger generation – each flocking around and vying for varying degrees of affection and attention from the sole, emotionally-cold male lead, and the fragile tensions, anxieties and unpredictable relations between them. The attacks are mysteriously related to the mother and son relationship in the film – anger (and fears of abandonment or being left lonely) of the jealous, initially hostile mother come to the surface when her bachelor son brings home an attractive young woman. Curiously, the first attack has symbolic phallic undertones – it occurs when the man and woman approach toward each other outside the restaurant in the coastal town.

  • From a film student’s paper at SUNY –Fredonia- (May 9, 2002)Mitch becomes more involved with Melanie the bird attacks progressively get more vicious. At the birthday party for his little sister Cathy, Mitch and Melanie are off alone and Melanie reveals that her mother abandoned her at an early age, which raises the question, is better to be loved or abandoned? Melanie feels it is better to be abandoned, while Mitch feels its better to be loved. As they walk back to the party, Lydia looks up at them and frowns, showing her displeasure of them being together. Immediately afterward, Cathy is attacked by a gull setting into motion a full scale attack on the children at the party. The birds attack Cathy for befriending Melanie earlier.
  • There is no clear logical explanation of the bird attacks in the film, but the metaphorical reason is clear. The bird attacks are the personification of Lydia’s (mother’s) rage and fight to remain the alpha female of the family.
  • The lovebirds are also a strong symbol in the film. They symbolize the characters in the story. The birds are trapped in a cage; the end of the film traps the characters within their own cage.

Do Crows and Seagulls Really Have Reason to Attack People?

According to a Popular Science Article in 2012, after experimentation –

Crows’ true behaviors include:

  • When encountering a single face, crows do occasionally scold a person who is not dangerous. It seems safer to cry wolf occasionally rather than ignore a real threat. But when we presented the crows with a choice, their ability to distinguish among people was uncanny.
  • In general- The corvid family–a widespread group of birds made up most prominently of crows, ravens, and magpies–are no ordinary birds, with a brain-to-body-weight ratio and cognitive abilities equal to apes and dolphins. This excerpt, from the great new book Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans_,
  • The Top then List of Birds that can and perhaps will “Kick your Ass”-
  • Seagulls rank # 10 according to Toptenz.net. (They began with #10)  So…. are they the worst or the most harmless?  Who knows?  (See reference below if you’d like to watch individual videos)

 Parting thoughts:

Although the Movie “Cleopatra “won the Academy Award for best picture that year, “Hitch” was given credit for being ahead of his time for technical effects in using computer graphics, having many mechanical birds assembled and had  an excellent bird trainer who trained hundreds of birds.  However, there were real injuries sustained with birds hurled relentlessly at the actors and exhaustion ….but no murder!

Perhaps we should just “enjoy the horror of it under the covers” and forget the rest!  There will never be another, “The Birds” although they did try an internet re-make in 2011 which never made it to fruition.

References: Many YouTube interviews were reviewed in addition to:






Unanswered Questions: Murderous Birds from Alfred Hitchcock… The Horror of it All

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