10 Fascinating Facts About The Birds

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

There’s an old saying in Hollywood: You’re only as good as your last movie. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho, his most financially successful film and a trendsetting horror classic. Just when it seemed as though there was nothing left for him to prove, he climbed right back into the director’s chair. Hitchcock’s next picture was The Birds, a technical marvel against which all creature features—from Jaws to Cujo—are now measured.

1. IT WAS THE THIRD DAPHNE DU MAURIER STORY THAT HITCHCOCK ADAPTED.

Daphne du Maurier's work has been adapted dozens of times for film and television projects, and Alfred Hitchcock was a particular fan of the London-born author and playwright. Over the course of his career, he adapted three of du Maurier's stories, beginning with his 1939 film version of her thrilling novel Jamaica Inn. In 1940, he took Rebecca—du Maurier’s gothic masterwork which continues to sell 50,000 copies a year—and converted it into an Oscar-winning drama starring Laurence Olivier.

In 1952, du Maurier published The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Some Stories. One of the book’s highlights is a chilling tale called “The Birds.” An environmentally-conscious fable, it’s about a population of birds who start attacking humans after a harsh winter depletes their natural food supply. Hitchcock liked the basic premise and wanted to put “The Birds” on film. However, his adaptation would not be a faithful retelling.

Once Hitchcock bought the rights to du Maurier’s avian yarn, he hired screenwriter Evan Hunter to pen a script. Hunter remembered that, during an early telephone conversation, the director told him “We’re getting rid of the du Maurier story entirely. We’re just keeping the title and the notion of birds attacking people.” The result was a screenplay Hunter described as “a screwball comedy that turns into terror.”

2. AN AVIAN HOSPITAL WAS BUILT ON THE SET.

Universal Pictures

Through a meticulous positive reinforcement process, animal handler Ray Berwick trained hundreds of live birds for use in Hitchcock’s movie. Most of these were wild-caught crows, ravens, seagulls, and sparrows. Berwick oversaw an entire bird-wrangling team whose members spent a huge amount of time corralling their feathered co-workers between takes. To ensure that none of the animals was harmed, the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) assumed an active role in the production. Under their watchful eye, the crew set up a makeshift avian hospital.

“We actually built an aviary onto the set for birds that had been hurt or injured,” Veronica Cartwright, who played Cathy in the film, said. Another measure taken in the name of animal welfare was the construction of a large net, which the special effects team draped over the living room set; this kept the birds from flying haphazardly through the rest of the studio.

The wrangling team had plenty of other tricks up their sleeves as well. Sometimes, to get their feathered friends to fly toward a camera, the crew would suspend a hunk of meat beneath the lens. In one interview, Hitchcock noted that a lot of prep work went into the shot in which a seagull latches onto a girl at a birthday party, harassing her as she tries to run off. “[We] built a little platform on her shoulder and a gull was put there,” Hitchcock explained. For safety reasons, its beak was bound shut with wire.

3. ONE RAVEN STRONGLY DISLIKED ROD TAYLOR.

Like everyone else in the film, Rod Taylor’s character—Mitch Brenner—had to withstand a barrage of avian attacks. One particular bird really had it in for Taylor. There was a captive raven named Archie who seemingly went out of his way to attack the actor, even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

“Every morning, if we were on the set together, he’d come over and … bite me," Taylor revealed in Universal’s DVD documentary All About the Birds. "I hated him and he hated me.” It got to the point where Taylor started making inquiries about Archie’s whereabouts as part of his daily, on-set ritual. “I’d walk in and say, ‘Is Archie working today?’ And they’d say, ‘Uh, I don’t think so Rod. I think we’re working with seagulls.’ And out of the rafters would come Archie. [He] hated me and would lie in wait for me.”

4. HITCHCOCK’S DOGS MADE A CAMEO.

He’s remembered as both the master of suspense and an early adopter of cinematic Easter eggs. Alfred Hitchcock loved to make brief, on-screen appearances in his own films. By 1963, audiences had come to expect these little cameos. The Birds throws one at us when Melanie (Tippi Hedren) ducks into a pet store near the beginning of the picture. As she enters the place, you can see Hitchcock leading a pair of small dogs out. These pooches were Stanley and Geoffrey, the director’s lovable Sealyham Terriers. (An admirer of this breed, he’d previously owned another male named Mr. Jenkins.)

5. ONE OF MICKEY MOUSE’S CO-CREATORS WORKED AS A SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR.

Real, flesh-and-blood birds share the screen with a few mechanical ones in the film. Additionally, the movie relied heavily on matte work, a process whereby images from two separate reels of film are combined. This enabled footage of angry birds to be paired with separate shots depicting frightened actors. To help execute these effects, Hitchcock reached out to Ub Iwerks, an animator who’d been working for Walt Disney since 1924 and had helped create the Mickey Mouse character in 1927.

Renowned throughout Hollywood as a visual effects wizard, Iwerks was a self-taught expert on matte techniques. Disney agreed to hire him out to Universal so that he could put his knowledge to good use for Hitchcock’s The Birds. Iwerks was rewarded with an Oscar nod when The Birds was nominated for Best Special Effects in 1964. (It lost to the big-budget epic Cleopatra.)

6. A RESTAURATEUR IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA LET THE CREW USE HIS BUILDING—ON TWO SMALL CONDITIONS.

While much of the movie was filmed on studio lots, Hitchcock also filmed a large percentage on location in scenic Bodega Bay, California. Located 65 miles north of San Francisco, the small village offered some big advantages. “In order to get the photography of the birds in the air, we needed an area with low land, not high mountains or a lot of trees,” Hitchcock told Cinefantastique. “In a pictorial sense, it was vital to have nothing on the ground but sand, so that we had the entire sky to play with.”

Bodega Bay and the neighboring communities of Bodega and Bodega Head had everything the director was looking for, so Hitchcock employed all three places as locations. Several of the diner scenes were filmed at a Bodega Bay eatery called the Tides Restaurant. Then-owner Mitch Zankich struck a bargain with the filmmakers. “[He] told the locations manager that he would let them film his place for free if they would call the community in the movie Bodega Bay and if the hero was called Mitch,” Hazel Mitchell, who’d worked at the Tides as a waitress in those days, claimed. Zankich’s wishes were granted, and to sweeten the deal, he was given an on-screen appearance with a line of dialogue. “In the scene on the dock, when Tippi Hedren is attacked by the bird when she is in the skiff, a man asks Rod Taylor, ‘What happened, Mitch?’ And that was Mitch Zankich,” Mitchell said.

7. AN ALTERNATE ENDING WOULD’VE INVOLVED THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE.

Genre films have been unkind to the California landmark: A giant octopus attacked the Golden Gate Bridge in It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955); Magneto ripped the bridge off its foundation in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006); and a simian revolt broke out on its pavement in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). If Hitchcock had more money or time at his disposal, The Birds might have subjected the bridge to yet another indignity. Early in pre-production, Hitchcock entertained the idea of closing his film with a shot of several hundred birds perching on the Golden Gate. However, he quickly realized that this proposed visual would have been way too costly to shoot. Hunter’s script also called for a horde of birds to attack the roof of Mitch and Melanie’s car as they drive away from Bodega Bay at the end of the film. That concept was abandoned, too. 

8. THE ATTIC SCENE TOOK AN ENTIRE WEEK TO SHOOT, AND PROVED TO BE TOO MUCH FOR TIPPI HEDREN.

When Cary Grant visited the set, he called Hedren the bravest lady he’d ever met. To put it mildly, she had a rough moviemaking experience. During the telephone booth scene, a pane of so-called “safety-glass” that shattered in her face turned out to be real glass; its shards were then painstakingly extracted from her nose and left cheek. And then there was the attic attack. Hedren’s character in The Birds is Melanie Daniels, a confident blonde who courts Mitch Brenner. One of the movie’s most shocking moments comes when Melanie takes a peek inside the Brenner family’s attic and finds a small army of birds hiding out. The second they see her, they charge Melanie, who’s rendered unconscious by their violent onslaught.

It’s a brutal scene that’s hard to watch and was a nightmare to film. Since this was a complex and emotionally taxing scene, Hedren spent a full week working on it. Hitchcock spent much of it ordering his crewmen to hurl live gulls at her from behind the camera because he thought this would intensify Hedren’s performance. Also, at regular intervals, there’d be a pause in the shooting so the makeup team could apply some new faux injuries. But she also received some real ones; Hedren’s willpower finally collapsed when a bird ripped a hole into her lower eyelid. The injury provoked a full-blown nervous breakdown and, at her doctor’s insistence, production was forced to shut down for a week to allow her to recover.

In the years since the film's release, Hedren has also spoken openly about being subjected to yet another harrowing experience while The Birds was being filmed: According to the actress, she was sexually harassed by Hitchcock. "I think he was an extremely sad character," Hedren said in 2012. "We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting." Hedren's allegations were later dramatized in The Girl, a controversial biopic that premiered in 2012.

9. MATTEL CELEBRATED THE FILM’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY WITH A BARBIE DOLL.

In 2008, the toy company unveiled a commemorative Barbie doll based on Melanie Daniels. The figurine was a dead ringer for Hedren, right down to the green Edith Head suit. It also came with some unusual accessories: Three detachable crows, each one posed in an “attack position” in the original packaging.

10. A MADE-FOR-TV SEQUEL CAME OUT IN 1994.

The Birds II: Land's End premiered on Showtime on March 14, 1994, more than 30 years after the original film debuted in theaters. Hedren makes an appearance in this low-budget sequel, but instead of reprising the role of Melanie, she’s cast as an entirely new character named Helen. Unlike the original film, which took place in California’s Bodega Bay, the setting of this installment is a fictional island on the east coast. It was directed by Rick Rosenthal, who was so dissatisfied with the end product that he used the pseudonym Alan Smithee in place of his real name during the opening credits. Hedren isn’t too crazy about The Birds II either; "It's absolutely horrible," she once said of the film. "It embarrasses me horribly."

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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A New Documentary Investigates West Virginia’s Infamous Mothman

The Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
The Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Jimmy Emerson DVM, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The continuing impact of the Mothman on Point Pleasant, West Virginia, is hard to overlook. The town plays host to a statue, a museum, and an annual festival that all celebrate the red-eyed flying beast who first showed up on the scene in 1966.

In November of that year, two couples spotted a winged, vaguely man-shaped monster near the so-called “TNT area,” a collection of abandoned bunkers where explosives were stored during World War II. After the Point Pleasant Register reported on their harrowing ordeal, other sightings started rolling in. When nearly four dozen people were killed in a bridge collapse on December 15, 1967, many believed the Mothman was somehow involved.

The infamous cryptid’s popularity endured over the ensuing decades with the help of John Keel’s 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies and the 2002 movie adaptation starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. While glimpses of the Mothman himself definitely peaked during the ’60s, close encounters with a strange creature in West Virginia still surface to this day.

In his new documentary The Mothman Legacy, director Seth Breedlove delves into the history of the Mothman, investigating its long legacy in Pleasant Point and interviewing more recent eyewitnesses. It’s not Breedlove’s first film on the matter; he also directed 2017’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant, which focuses on the Mothman’s heyday from November 1966 to the bridge catastrophe a year later.

His latest project features Jeff Wamsley, who has written two books on the subject and also founded the town’s Mothman Museum. As The Daily Beast reports, The Mothman Legacy doesn’t exactly try to solve the mystery of the Mothman or debunk all the theories about it. Instead, it’s more of a celebration of the urban legend, complete with spooky CGI reenactments and plenty of eerie accounts of alleged run-ins with the monster. In short, it’s ideal fodder for your Halloween movie marathon—and as narrator Lyle Blackburn points out in the film, “an absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily indicate an evidence of absence.”

The documentary is now available to buy on VOD through Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other streaming platforms.

[h/t The Daily Beast]