‘The Birds’ Turns 50: Alfred Hitchcock Drew Fear From Real-Life Flock

Movie Talk
Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds,' starring Tippi Hedren, is based on a real event
Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds,' starring Tippi Hedren, is based on a real event

Three a.m., Aug. 18, 1961. Monterey Bay, California. Residents of the picturesque area are jarred from their slumber as thousands of sea birds begin swooping in and slamming into homes.

Sound vaguely familiar?

The odd occurrence was not only covered in the local paper the next day but also noted by a nearby homeowner -- none other than famed suspense auteur Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Hitchcock's classic "The Birds" -- inspired by those droves of birds that flew to their own demise in the middle of that summer night in 1961.

[Related: Hitchcock haterade is held back as ‘The Birds’ stars celebrate 50 years]

Starring Tippi Hedren, "The Birds" comes across as more campy than scary a half-century later, with its fake-looking (by today's standards) killer flying flocks. Now 83 years old, Hedren recently revealed that the movie's mock birds failed during film production. "That was the first time anybody had seen Alfred in a situation where he didn't know what to do," Hedren said in an interview set to air Thursday night during the film's screening on Encore Suspense at 8 p.m. ET/PT (see the video below).

Only On Yahoo! Movies -- Tippi Hedren Discusses Birds On Set:

But when "The Birds" first flew into theaters, moviegoers were on the edge of their seats. It was a hit, earning $11.4 million -- just beating the box-office returns on Hitchcock's prior horror classic, "Psycho."

1961 photo of an official examining dead sea birds in Monterey Bay
1961 photo of an official examining dead sea birds in Monterey Bay

Hitchcock based the script for "The Birds" on a 1952 short story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier (who also provided the story for Hitch's "Rebecca"). But the director had a home in Scotts Valley, just a few miles from where the real-life 1961 bird invasion took place, and is said to have been first inspired by the actual event before turning to du Maurier's fiction. "Hollywood mystery producer Alfred Hitchcock phoned The Sentinel Saturday to let us know he is using last Friday's edition as research material for his latest thriller," wrote the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Aug. 21, 1961.

For years, marine biologists were stumped as to the reason why so many birds dive-bombed from the sky that night. But now scientists seem pretty confident of the cause: poison.

In 1991 marine scientist David Garrison decided to investigate the event and concluded that the birds had eaten anchovies and squid that had consumed toxic algae containing a naturally occurring poison called domoic acid. Experts say the neurotoxin poisons the brain, causing confusion, disorientation, scratching, seizures, coma, and even death.

And yeah, other similar, strange bird occurrences have been linked to the ocean-dwelling gunk. Sadly, a handful of human deaths have also been linked to the very neurotoxin that is thought to have scrambled the brains of those birds on that fateful night in 1961.

Only On Yahoo! Movies -- Tippi Hedren On 'The Birds' As Her First Film:

Follow me on Twitter (@meriahonfiah)