August 18, 1961: “The Birds” invade Santa Cruz

“Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes; Thousands of Birds Floundering in Streets” read the headline in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“A massive flight of sooty shearwaters, fresh from a feast of anchovies, collided with shoreside structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar during the night.Birds
Residents, especially in the Pleasure Point and Capitola area were awakened about 3 a.m. today by the rain of birds, slamming against their homes.

Dead, and stunned seabirds littered the streets and roads in the foggy, early dawn. Startled by the invasion, residents rushed out on their lawns with flashlights, then rushed back inside, as the birds flew toward their light.
. . .
When the light of day made the area visible, residents found the streets covered with birds. The birds disgorged bits of fish and fish skeletons over the streets and lawns and housetops, leaving an overpowering fishy stench.
. . .
The most learned explanation of the bird tragedy came this morning from Ward Russell, museum zoologist at the University of California.

He said the shearwaters generally live in the southern hemisphere. As far as they are concerned this is their winter flocking area.
Often when they are disturbed while feeding they will rise in flocks from the water. A blinding fog covered the coast last night and this morning.

“They probably became confused and lost and headed for the light,” he said. The only light available was the street lights and overnight lights in some homes and businesses.
. . .
Russell said that this is a fairly rare phenomena and it takes certain atmospheric conditions to cause this confusion. He said that during very foggy conditions the lighthouses along the coast are struck by the thousands of seabirds.”

The day after this story ran in the Sentinel, Hollywood mystery producer Alfred Hitchcock phoned to inform the paper that he would be using last Friday’s edition as research material for his latest thriller.

It seems Hitchcock was preparing to film Daphne DuMaurier’s novel, “The Birds,” which ironically deals with the invasion of a small town by millions of birds.

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