This week’s Folklore Friday:
On August 18, 1961, in Monterey Bay, CA residents across the city woke up to thousands of sooty shearwater birds covering their homes, lawns, and streets. The birds were making strange noises, seemed unable to fly or stand, and were throwing up fish guts everywhere, making the whole city reek.
City workers, adults, and children everywhere began scooping up the birds and returning them to the bay, where, revitalized, the animals were then able to fly away. Eight residents reported being bitten by the birds, and many narrowly avoided being hit by the falling animals.
The incident drew the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who used the story as inspiration for his famous thriller film, “The Birds.”
At the time of the incident, scientists credited a heavy nighttime fog for confusing the migrating birds, and said that they simply flew toward whatever light they could find, be it street lamps, windows, or flashlights. Years later, modern scientists also discovered that newly installed septic systems nearby likely infected the birds’ sardine dinners with a toxic algae, explaining their strange behavior once the fog had cleared. The combination of the fog and the poisoned food supply created a unique natural phenomena that has now been forever immortalized.