While “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock was broadcast last night on Arte, a look back at a strange phenomenon that occurred in the summer of 1961, and which partly inspired the master of suspense.
“Residents … were awakened around 3 a.m. today by a shower of birds hurling themselves at their homes. Dead or stunned seabirds littered the streets and roads in the fog of the Twilight.”
These few lines, worthy of a horror film, seem to come straight from the script of The Birds , a famous feature film by Alfred Hitchcock (broadcast last night on Arte), in which Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor face violent and inexplicable bird attacks.
However, it was not on a screen but in real life – and more precisely on the front page of the Californian daily The Santa Cruz Sentinel – that on August 18, 1961, two years before the release of Hitchcock’s film, the inhabitants of surroundings were able to read these chilling words.
Indeed, the day before, thousands of seabirds had mysteriously crashed into the city of Santa Cruz. An incomprehensible event, which scientists first associated with weather conditions and fog, which they said would have disoriented the animals.
Enough to arouse the curiosity of Alfred Hitchcock who, at the time, was just preparing for the filming of The Birds, an adaptation of a short story by Daphne du Maurier . Having heard of this strange news item, the filmmaker immediately seized on it to feed the visual environment of his future film.
It wasn’t until 2011, some 50 years later, that the Santa Cruz bird mystery was finally solved. As an article in Le Monde tells it , a Nature Geoscience study conducted by American oceanographers discovered that that night, the astonishing behavior of these thousands of birds was simply due to… food poisoning.
Indeed, according to scientists, Californian birds would have ingested a very particular microscopic algae, emitting a special toxin capable of creating significant confusion among birds.
Would Hitchcock’s fearsome fictional creatures have suffered the same fate, which would explain their aggressiveness in the feature film? History does not tell us. It is up to each spectator, therefore, to form their own opinion....