Birds, The: Making of Hitchcock’s Horror Masterpiece–What You Need to Know

Set in San Francisco, California, The Birds stars Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in her first film.

The ensemble also includes Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and Veronica Cartwright in secondary roles.

Melanie Daniels, a city woman, meets Mitch Brenner at a pet store. She pretends to work at the store. She drives to Bodega Bay to give love birds to his daughter. She meets the school teacher Annie Hayworth. She takes a boat to cross the lake. She drops off the birds and goes back in the boat. Mitch follows by car. A seagull attacks Melanie on the boat. Mitch helps her out of the boat, and then bandages her cut in the restaurant.

Later Mitch invites Melanie to the birthday party of Cathy. There, birds attack the children.

Lydia’s chickens have not been eating. So she goes to the neighbor. She finds his dead body. His eyes have been removed; dead birds are in the room.

At the schoolhouse, Melanie is waiting and birds come to the playground. Annie and the children leave the school building quietly, but the crows attack. Gulls attack the gas station in the town. Gasoline causes an explosion.

The people panic and leave the restaurant. Melanie gets trapped in a telephone booth. Back at the restaurant, a woman accuses Melanie that it is all her fault.

Mitch and Melanie get Cathy from Annie’s place, when Annie is found dead. Melanie and the Brenners go to their house. Birds come in through the fireplace. They secure the windows and fireplace with wood and nails. The birds attack again. They eat at the wood of windows and doors. They break in through the roof. Melanie goes up to see and is attacked. Mitch comes up and brings Melanie downstairs.

He listens to the radio in the car. The radio says that there were other attacks. The attacks were around Bodega Bay. Eventually the Brenners and Melanie leave. They drive with the car and take the lovebirds.


Hitchcock makes his signature cameo as a man walking dogs out of the pet shop at the beginning of the film.

Evan Hunter’s screenplay is based on Daphne du Maurier’s novella “The Birds.” Hitchcock wanted the movie to start funny and end with horror. The audience would know bird attacks would come, but would not know exactly when.


Hitchcock wanted the ending to be puzzling, ambiguous, and not clear, so he cut part of the original ending out.

Most of the birds were real. Some were mechanical like a machine. The real birds were caught and trained.There is much silence in the movie. This creates suspense. It is a contrast to the noise of the birds. There is no traditional score. The music tells the audience what emotions to have. Sound effects were created with the electroacoustic Mixtur-Trautonium, a form of synthesizer.

The sodium vapor process (“yellow screen”) was used for the attack scenes. The process shoots two images at the same time and overlaps them. SVP was better for the fast-moving wings of the birds. Blue backing and sodium matter and optical printers were also used.

Critical Status:

The movie is part of the National Film Registry, because it is culturally significant.

Oscar Context:

The movie was nominated for the best special effects Oscar


Love vs. Violence

The two lovebirds are in contrast to the violent crows and gulls, who attack people.


Various civilians are being trapped, like Melanie in the phone booth. Any time someone goes out, they are in danger.

At the Brenner’s house, they must seal windows and doors, as outside, the birds surround them. In the beginning, only birds are in cages. Eventually humans are trapped like in a cage.

There is conflict between nature and man. Humans are very vulnerable to nature, and the birds attack might be seen as a form of punishment.

The movie builds up to the scenes of the birds attack, when chaos erupts.

Point-of-view are used, with audience seeing the same things as the actors. The camera switches from facing the actor to the object of their sight and back again.

There are also shots from the view of birds, when they attack the center of town and the gas station; we see the town from above.

Inspired by:

The Birds was partly inspired by the true events of a mass bird attack on the seaside town of Capitola in California on August 18, 1961.

Capitola residents awoke to a scene where hordes of seabirds were dive-bombing their homes, crashing into cars and spewing half-digested anchovies onto lawns.

Hitchcock heard of this event and used it as research material for this film. The cause of the birds’ behavior was toxic algae, but that was not known back in the 1960s.

Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner
Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels
Jessica Tandy as Lydia Brenner, mother of Mitch and Cathy
Veronica Cartwright as Cathy Brenner
Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth, school teacher
Ethel Griffies as Mrs. Bundy, ornithologist (studies birds)
Charles McGraw as Sebastian Sholes, fisherman
Lonny Chapman as Deke Carter, innkeeper
Karl Swenson as Christian preacher
Joe Mantell as Cynical Businessman
Ruth McDevitt as Mrs. MacGruder, owner of the bird shop
Malcolm Atterbury as Deputy Al Malone
Elizabeth Wilson as Helen Carter, Deke’s wife
Richard Deacon as Mitch’s neighbor in San Francisco



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