Alfred Hitchcock and his crews descended on this sleepy hamlet in Northern California to film “The Birds” in 1962. Here is a fun look at Bodega Bay during filming, and today.
Almost all landmarks from the 1962 filming days are gone now. The real charm of the town, however, still exists: a quiet fishing community. This is what Hitchcock liked about it back in the early 1960s, and it’s why I go there several times a year.
The original story for the Birds was a short story written by Daphne du Maurier. Set on the Cornish coast, it’s about a farmer and his family and unusual bird behavior. It’s a rather dull story. Then Hitchcock came along and injected his craft as a suspenseful filmmaker; created a memorable and terrifying horror-thriller that can still send shivers up our movie-watching spines.
The downtown featured in the film was mainly a set built by crews. They built facades to look like whole buildings. There is no downtown in Bodega Bay, nor has there ever been.
In addition, Hitchcock cinematically combined the real Bodega Bay with two other nearby towns, to make it look more bustling than it really was. Over 50 years later and Bodega Bay is, thankfully, still not bustling.
One aspect that remains today: The Tides.
In 1962, The Tides was on Bodega Bay’s waterfront with a small motel and restaurant on the road; and down at the water was a wharf and fish shops.
At the time of filming, Hitchcock and The Tides owner, Mitch Zankich, made a deal. Hitchcock could use The Tides for shooting the film at no cost, if Mitch could have three things: a small speaking part in the film, the actual name of “The Tides” in the film, and the male lead character named after him.
This is Mitch Zankich on a pier at The Tides in 1962. A true entrepreneur.
Today The Tides is in the same location, but the old buildings are gone, and the complex is a contemporary building with two restaurants, a fish market, and a gift shop. You can enjoy lunch on the pier and watch fishing boats and crews, pelicans, sea lions and gulls. Anyone passing through Bodega Bay stops here–hot food, snacks, bathrooms.
They have framed 1962 promotional posters; and fake crows humorously staged in the rafters. This kitschy booth also attracts attention.
Bodega Bay is a place filled with birds…not like in the movie, of course, with crows murdering farmers and terrorizing young children.
But a handsome migration of shorebirds and ducks occurs here every winter, attracting Bay Area birders like me.
Birds used in the film were an innovative combination of real, papier mache, and mechanical. Special effects and production techniques added a lot, too.
To film large flocks of gulls, Hitchcock’s film crew went to the San Francisco City Dump. They raked spoiled food into large piles and spent three days shooting more than 20,000 feet of film–gulls diving into the garbage piles.
Papier mache birds were wired into place. Below are two photos of the same school: the film set of the school and playground, with fake birds wired into place.
And here’s the same school today. Redwood trees (on the left) have grown up where the playground was. It’s one of the only still-existing buildings from the film.
One of the reasons Hitchcock chose Bodega Bay for this bird film was it’s open sky and water. He accentuated the nature vs. man theme with a sky filled with screeching, menacing birds.
But this is the most adverse avian activity I ever saw in Bodega Bay: three gulls fighting over fish scraps that a fisherman had just thrown in.
I appreciate the ingenuity of The Master of Suspense, and I am a big Hitchcock fan.
But oh how sanguine that this small fishing town with its open sky and sparkling bay is, in real life, a gentle place where migrating birds spend a mild and quiet winter.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.
Black and white photos from “Footsteps in the Fog,” 2002, by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal.