Released only three years after his groundbreaking 1960 film Psycho—which is widely considered to be “the first modern horror movie”—legendary director Alfred Hitchcock released The Birds, a film which during its first half seems like yet another screwball romantic comedy but then transforms into an apocalyptic nightmare when groups of birds begin attacking people in a small Northern California town for no apparent reason.
Although it opened to mixed reviews, The Birds is now widely regarded as a horror classic and one of the first horror movies, along with subsequent classics such as the shark film Jaws, where nature takes revenge against humanity.
Creepy Catalog did a deep-dive analysis of The Birds, including several fascinating trivia items that are not listed below, here.
What follows are 38 obscure facts about this one-of-a-kind horror film.
The Actual Birds
3. At the UK premiere at the Odeon in London, there were six penguins, two flamingos, and fifty red cardinals and starlings in attendance.
4. In order to entice birds to fly directly toward the camera, meat was attached right next to camera lenses during certain scenes.
5. To ensure the birds’ safety during filming, officials from the ASPCA were on set. They built an aviary to help treat injured birds.
6. One of the birds, named Archie, took a peculiar dislike to lead actor Rod Taylor, who says, “Every morning, if we were on the set together, he’d come over and bite me. I hated him and he hated me….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.”
7. In the birthday-party scene where the gulls suddenly attack and start popping balloons, crew members placed pins inside the gulls’ mouths and taped their beaks shut. One of the gulls flew away with its mouth still taped, but crew members were able to find it after hours of searching. If they hadn’t found the bird, it would have died.
8. According to Veronica Cartwright, who played Mitch Brenner’s younger sister Cathy, most of the birds you see gathered on the jungle gym and swing set in the infamous playground scene were not real. She says most were made out of paper or cloth, with only a few real birds mixed in.
9. The Birds was the third adaptation of English writer Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story of the same title—it had already been adapted for radio twice.
10. The Birds was the third Hitchcock adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story. The first was in his 1939 film Jamaica Inn. The second was the following year’s Rebecca, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
11. Rights to Du Maurier’s story were originally purchased in 1955 and intended to be adapted into an episode of the TV program Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was later decided that it should be made into a feature film.
12. Although Hitchcock’s film was based on the du Maurier short story The Birds, Hitchcock told screenwriter Evan Hunter, “We’re getting rid of the du Maurier story entirely. We’re just keeping the title and the notion of birds attacking people.” Du Maurier was reportedly displeased with the final product.
13. The Birds was also the name of a comedy by Greek playwright Aristophanes.
14. Daphne du Maurier’s son claims that in May of 2001, he and his wife were suddenly attacked by seagulls outside their house in Cornwall, England.
15. Actress Suzanne Pleshette suggested to the director that in the scene where her body is found, she should have a bloody ear hanging off her head.
16. The famous scene where children are running downhill from the schoolhouse to the center of town was partially reshot on a backlot at Universal Studios. The children “ran” on a treadmill while footage of attacking birds was projected behind them on a screen.
17. During the harrowing scene where Tippi Hedren is attacked by seagulls in the attic—which took seven days to film and after which she spent a week in the hospital to recover—crew members set up a device inside her hairdo. It was a blood-filled tube that was designed to explode with blood and air once a fake gull swooped down and reached her head.
18. After makeup man Howard Smit applied the cosmetic “injuries” to Tippi Hedren’s face, she reportedly took a gander at herself in the mirror, said, “Pardon me, Howard,” exited her trailer, and vomited.
19. At the film’s London premiere, producers placed loudspeakers in the trees outside so that when audiences left, they were further terrorized by the sounds of screeching birds.
20. Alfred Hitchcock made cameos in most of his films. In The Birds, he can be seen near the beginning as he exits the pet shop walking his two white terriers, Geoffrey and Stanley.
21. It takes a long time for the birds to start attacking. The first attack is twenty-five-and-a-half minutes in the film; it takes exactly that amount of additional time for the second attack to occur.
22. Hitchcock originally considered actor Cary Grant, who’d starred in his film North By Northwest, for the role of Mitch Brenner but decided that Grant was too expensive and that the film could sell itself based merely on its premise and Hitchcock’s name.
23. The schoolhouse used in the movie was rumored to be haunted. According to Tippi Hedren, she got the creepy feeling that “the building was immensely populated, but there was nobody there.” When Hitchcock heard that the house was supposedly haunted, it only encouraged him to film there.
24. Tippi Hedren was 33 at the time The Birds was filmed, making her old for a Hollywood starlet filming her debut. To compensate, she listed her birthdate as 1935, which would have made her 28. She kept up the facade until four decades later, when she finally revealed her true age.
25. The man who owned the Tides Restaurant in downtown Bodega Bay where a few scenes were filmed was named Mitch Zanich. He allowed Hitchcock to film there on one condition—the male lead had to be named “Mitch.” Zanich is seen in the segment after a seagull attacks Melanie—he asks Rod Taylor, whose character was Mitch Brenner, “What happened, Mitch?”
26. The infamous scene at the gas station where an explosion occurs after a man throws his match on the gasoline-filled street was filmed on a soundstage. At the time, the gas station didn’t exist. Many years after The Birds was filmed, a gas station was built outside the Tides Restaurant in the exact spot where it appeared in the movie.
27. Tippi Hedren wears the same green suit throughout the movie. She was provided with six identical green suits to accomplish this.
29. The song that the children sing inside the schoolhouse as the crows are gathering on the playground is called “Risseldy Rosseldy,” which is an adaptation of a Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife.” The traditional song had additional lyrics added to it so that what you hear in the film is, “I married my wife In the month of June, Risseldy, Rosseldy, Mow, mow, mow, I carried her off In a silver spoon, Risseldy, Rosseldy, Hey bambassity, Nickety, nackety, Retrical quality, Willowby, wallowby, Mow, mow, mow.”
30. Rod Taylor, who played lead love interest Mitch Brenner to Tippi Hedren’s Melanie Daniels, was only eight days older than Hedren in real life.
31. The Birds was released in China as Flock of Birds.
32. While working on the film, Hitchcock revealed to a reporter that he harbored a secret fear of eggs being broken: “Have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid?”
33. Alfred Hitchcock intentionally left out the phrase “THE END” as the film ended because he wanted to convey the sort of terror that never ends. The studio slipped in a “THE END” during the film’s first print, but all subsequent versions had it removed.
34. When NBC premiered The Birds on network TV on January 6, 1968, it earned a Nielsen rating of 38.9 and an audience share of 59%, making it the most-watched film on TV in American history up until that date.
35. The Birds was voted the seventh-scariest film of all time in a 2006 poll conducted on the British public.
37. MAD magazine would spoof The Birds in its October 1963 issue with a parody called “For the Birds.” The spoof “revealed” that actor Burt Lancaster, furious for not receiving the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Birdman of Alcatraz, unleashed the birds on the small California town as an act of revenge. The movie was also spoofed on SNL:
38. Now considered a masterpiece, The Birds opened to mixed and often very negative reviews. A sample bad review came from Philip K. Scheuer at The Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “Hitchcock was once widely quoted as saying he hated actors. After his 1960 ‘Psycho’ and now ‘The Birds,’ it must be fairly obvious that he has extended his abhorrence to the whole human race. For reasons hardly justified either dramatically or esthetically, the old master has become a master of the perverse. He has gone all out for shock for shock’s sake, and it is too bad.”