No, there's never been a fatal bird attack on visitors to this picturesque fishing village north of San Francisco. "Not a one," said local birder Ken Wilson. But he's still amazed...
BODEGA BAY, Calif. No, there’s never been a fatal bird attack on visitors to this picturesque fishing village north of San Francisco. “Not a one,” said local birder Ken Wilson.
But he’s still amazed at the hold Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” filmed here and nearby, still has on people 40 years after its release.
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In the gift shop at the Tides Wharf & Restaurant, remodeled in 1997 and barely resembling the one featured in the film, you can buy a menacing-looking faux crow ($20) or a light switch cover with the likeness of “Birds” star Tippi Hedren and this warning: “The Birds are out there! They are sure to be about when the lights go out.”
The birds are out there, all right, but they aren’t the evil creatures of Hitchcock’s film.
Noted for birding
Bodega Bay, permanent population about 1,000, is one of North America’s best birding spots, for the last decade among the top-ranked in terms of species sighted by more than 1,800 reporting National Audubon Society affiliates.
Last year’s annual Christmas count turned up 173 species and not a one of them a killer.
Bird-watching is a year-round activity in Bodega Bay, with migrating shorebirds and Eastern land birds coming and going and species such as white-crowned sparrows and pelagic cormorants nesting. Winter is perfect for seeing shorebirds if you can hit town between storms.
But for those whose idea of a good time is not peering through binoculars, Bodega Bay is in itself a pleasant destination, well situated for forays into quaint towns nearby and an easy drive to Sonoma and Napa vineyards. And if you’re in no rush, getting there is half the fun.
From San Francisco and Oakland airports, it’s a pretty easy drive up the coast, with glorious ocean views, bucolic landscapes and, on a gray winter day, hardly another car.
However, those coming to Bodega Bay to follow in Hitchcock’s footsteps during this anniversary year for “The Birds” may be a bit disappointed. The only major film site still standing is the 1873 Potter Schoolhouse, where that flock of crazed crows attacked the children. And it’s in the town of Bodega, inland five miles south. The two-story white clapboard is now a private home, open four afternoons by appointment.
The town of Bodega has a bar, an antiques store or two and the Artisans’ Co-op, with jewelry, pottery and hand knits. Bodega Bay is not a pedestrian-friendly destination. The town wraps around Bodega Harbor, but most lodgings and restaurants are along Route 1. Tourist venues are limited; the real attractions are the coastline and fishing village ambience.
And those birds.
One particularly gray morning, three members of the Madrone Audubon Society of Sonoma County headed out to do a little reconnoitering. It was the kind of day Hitchcock had hoped for when he shot the film, wanting to depict Bodega Bay as gloomy and forbidding. But he hit a sunny spell, and the gloom had to be added in the film lab.
The group drove toward Doran Park Beach, which separates the harbor and the bay, and within minutes had the first sighting a pair of long-legged, white-rumped American avocets. “Look how they sweep their heads back and forth,” said Lewis Edmondson, a retired Food and Drug Administration inspector.
Gulls were everywhere, some standing like sentinels facing into the wind, but unlike Hitchcock’s gulls, they ignored the trio.
At Bodega Head, a promontory jutting out between ocean and bay, the waves crashed below and the wind was formidable. Edmondson caught glaucous-winged gulls in his scope. But it’s not those gulls and ravens that terrified moviegoers 40 years ago that worry today’s birders in Bodega Bay. True, ravens are worrisome, but that’s because they prey on young egrets. Birders worry more about pollution and disappearing habitats.
Still, if you insist on a Hitchcockian scare, “The Birds” video is on sale at the Tides shop, along with a mouse pad with Tippi’s likeness and this reminder: “Don’t forget to feed ‘The Birds.’ “