The Birds and Bodega Bay

Hitchcock on Tides Pier, 1962, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

The Birds movie poster

 

Hitchcock on the set with fake birds, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

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.

 

Fishing Boat on Bodega Bay at Low Tide

 

Bodega Bay Clamming at Low Tide.

 

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.Β  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.

The Tides Motel and Restaurant, 1963, Bodega Bay, California. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

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.

Mitch Zankich at The Tides, 1962. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

 

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.

The Tides in Modern Day, Bodega Bay, California

 

They have framed 1962 promotional posters; and fake crows humorously staged in the rafters. This kitschy booth also attracts attention.

Staged crow scene at The Tide, Bodega Bay, California.

 

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 over Bodega Bay, California

 

Western Gull, Bodega Bay, California. Sea lion in water, center photo.

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.

Bodega Bay school film set with fake birds, 1962. Photo courtesy Footsteps in the Fog.

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.

“The Birds” schoolhouse, aka Potter School, Bodega, California. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

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.

Gulls tugging on fish scraps, Bodega Bay, California

 

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.

Great Egret fishing at Bodega Bay

 

69 thoughts on “The Birds and Bodega Bay

  1. Jet watching The Birds as a kid is one of the mainstays of my childhood memories. I had no idea where it was filmed. I’m glad to hear that today its no the crows but the gulls that are in great number. Fascinating history and I’m somehow relieved to know those birds on the roof were paper mache.
    Hoping you and Athena are doing well and the fires well in control near you.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the Birds post today, Sue. I re-watch Hitchcock films and recently had the joy of watching this one again. I went to Bodega Bay last month for an outdoor day trip, and so had great fun putting this post together. Re fires, most of the Aug. 17 fires are under control now but there is still a bad one burning in the Mendocino forest; it has burned 863,000 acres and is only 38% contained, still filling our air with plenty of toxins and burning the lovely forest down. Climate change is devastating, hopefully we can reverse it. Always a pleasure to hear from you, dear Sue, thank you.

  2. Hi Jet, I thoroughly enjoyed your historical look at Bodega Bay, one of my favorite places. I wasn’t aware of the history of The Tides. Too bad those old buildings are gone. We’ve stayed across the street on our visits. The Hitchcock memorabilia is fun to look at in town and, most of all, the natural beauty of this place is remarkable. Thanks for your research and images. πŸ™‚

    • Oh yes, the natural beauty is remarkable here, Jane. And how wonderful you’ve spent time here. Sometimes we stay at the Inn at the Tides, too. My warmest thanks for your lovely visit and comment today, Jane. I hope your weekend is great fun.

  3. Fabulous:). The Birds was for me the most terrifyingly wonderfully suspenseful Hitchcock movie…..an absolute winner. This is so interesting to learn more about where it was made. Thank you so much dear Jet. Have a lovely weekend..janet X

    • I agree with you, Janet, “The Birds” was terrifyingly wonderfully suspenseful. I’ve read that at the time he said it was his most technically challenging, and I can certainly believe it! Great fun to share some of the filming of it with you. Always a joy to be around a creative mind. Warmest thanks and big smiles to you.

  4. Great post, Jet. It was a nice look behind the movie. It also reminded how creeped out I was walking home from that film. I still get a little suspicious when more than a handful of crows collect on an overhead wire. Thanks.

    • I think what you describe about being suspicious when “more than a handful” of crows are overhead, Tom, is something many of us live with, due to this crazy movie. Really enjoyed your comment and words, my friend, thank you.

  5. I love Bodega Bay and will have to rewatch the Birds, although I remember it as being terrifying.
    Thank you Jet for bringing attention to how lovely of a place it actually is.

  6. Jet, I enjoyed reading the backstory of all this. I have to admit I wasn’t that into the scariness of the film back then. But when I started walking in the park in Illinois and saw how many birds there were, I thought that if they all turned angry, started attacking, and so on, it would really be quite horrifying. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the insights.

    janet

    • I liked this comment, Janet, because you got a taste of Hitchcock’s terror and didn’t even realize it. Feeling a little bit of the uneasiness he instilled when coming upon birds in a park. Wonderful to have you stop by, as always. Thank you.

  7. This post brought back memories not only of the movie (The Birds), but of my visit to Bodega Bay, 24 years ago. I had no idea at the time that The Birds was filmed there. We mainly visited the fishermen’s wharf where the Captain talked to the local salmon fishermen. I remembered them mentioning a salmon run that goes up the nearby Russian River. If I’m not mistaken, the Cap has caught some of these tagged fish off the Queen Charlotte Islands. (Don’t quote me on that, but I’m pretty sure that’s right.) Anyway, they travel a long way. We loved Bodega Bay and thought that fishing out of such a nice warm place would be so much more pleasant than fishing up north. Your posts always make me feel like I’m on holiday.

    • Oh what a joy to receive your comment, Anneli. Up the coast from Bodega Bay about 20 minutes or so is where the Russian River feeds into the Pacific, and it’s really fun to watch the birds and fish there. That’s probably what the locals were talking about. It’s a very rich environment. I liked hearing about your visit to BB and the Captain’s conversation with the local fishermen. I’m happy to hear that my posts make you feel like you’re on holiday, because that’s what I aim for. Many thanks, Anneli.

    • I liked that little tidbit about the gulls at the dump, too, Jan. I’m really glad you mentioned it, because I, too, though it was an ingenious idea. Hitchcock had the genius to be sure. Many thanks, and cheers to you for a happy weekend.

  8. Hitchcock sure knew how to scare the heck out of us, didn’t he? I remember seeing The Birds when I was a kid and it is seared in my memory! A murder of crows, particularly the large winter flocks we get here, always flash movie scenes into my mind. Some films stick with us forever, esp. if they scared us, like Jaws (!) for instance.
    I’m glad Bodega Bay remains a sleepy little village, I remember being surprised by its open spaciousness when I first visited it. I recall having an excellent fish dinner while there. πŸ™‚
    Have a good weekend, J & A!

    • Oh yes, I’m with you, Eliza, Hitchcock certainly did know how to terrify his viewers. He was definitely a quirky one. That movie was scary, Jaws was too, I agree. Psycho did a number on me, and so did The Exorcist. I am happy you’ve had the pleasure of visiting beautiful Bodega Bay. Thanks so very much.

  9. I enjoyed this immensely! I’m a movie nerd, and will happily read about movies all day. Bodega Bay looks very appealing, for all sorts of reasons beyond the movie. Until we can get there, I think another viewing of β€œThe Birds” is long overdue, perhaps next time it’s raining here. That’ll be in about ten minutes or so…
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • I’m a movie nerd, too, pc. And Hitchcock movies, well, I still keep re-watching them, and still have splendor in seeing new things I never saw before. The Birds is a great one to watch over and over. Really cool aerial shots, quiet scenes with no dialogue but incredible suspense, crows popping the balloons at the kids’ birthday party…uh-oh, don’t get me going. Sounds like the rain is really coming down up there, might be a good time indeed to fire up The Birds. A tip of the movie hat to you, my friend, and happy weekend to you and Mrs. PC.

    • Fun idea to have a bucket of clams for dinner, Craig. Great fun to share the Bodega Bay beauty with you, then and now, and I hope you get some clams, my friend. Thanks so very much.

  10. delightful posts about Bodega Bay, Jet. your behind the scene accounts on The Birds are very interesting and The Tides certainly have come a long way. beautiful photographs especially the migrating birds! thank you! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Wilma. It’s fun to be in a place where Alfred Hitchcock spent a lot of time, but the real fun comes with those migrating birds. My warm thanks and smiles to you.

    • I liked your comment, Andrea. You reminded me that Bodega Bay is just a fictional town to movie-watchers of The Birds, unless you have been there. It was really fun to share the information and photos of Hitchcock and Bodega Bay, and I appreciate your visit and lovely words.

    • I’m glad you felt the spirit I captured of Hitchcock, Val. He was a bigger-than-life kind of person, so it was really fun to learn more about him, and share it here. Thanks so much.

  11. Totally love this post Jet! Well done to take us to Bodega Bay with the historical images combined with the new and the info about this horror of a film (meant in a good way). Very interesting and what Mitch Zankich asked for made me laugh, great business man! What more can you ask for in his situation! πŸ™‚

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Bodega Bay post, Bertie, and the info about Mitch Zankich and the deal he cut with Hitchcock. I just think that is so funny. Imagine how cheeky you’d have to be to do something like that…and I say, good for him! I read that after the film came out there was a definite uptick in business at The Tides thereafter. Makes me laugh too. Thanks for sharing a laugh with me today, Bertie, and cheers to you.

  12. What a fascinating post, Jet. I was young and only recall snippets of the movie, but it was terrifying. I love this demystifying work. I’m glad Bodega Bay is such a lovely, unspoiled place today.

    • When I was going through the photos of Bodega Bay from the past, I found one of the three of us on our lovely picnic there. Great times to be remembered, at a wonderful place in the world. Thanks so very much, dear Nan.

    • I agree, Alastair, The Birds was truly a great film. I’m glad you enjoyed the visit to Bodega Bay. I like that crow scene, too. Always a pleasure to have you stop by, thank you.

  13. Well, this certainly was a delight! I’ve driven through there quite a few times, but don’t remember ever stopping. It was fun how you took us through way-back times and now without the facades. North Coast is certainly a fun place to explore. I remember the days… πŸ˜‰

    I’ve been looking at the fire maps and hoping you’re not in harm’s way. Sure seems as though California (including what I suspect is your area) is getting hit really hard these days.

    • Always a delight when you visit, Gunta, thank you. I really love the North Coast, too, and I’m glad you’ve been through the Bodega Bay area. We have had some challenging days this week with more wildfires, but we are okay. My warmest thanks.

  14. Thanks for taking us to the setting for “The Birds”. For those of us that saw that in our youth, it forever changed the way we looked at birds as kids, especially crows. To this day I feel a twinge when crows fly a little too close. A number of years ago there was a nest of some type of bird located in a vine leading up to our office door. As people would come and go, momma bird would attack peoples hair…..all I could think of was that movie! Great post….I see your response to recent wildfires and glad you guys are ok!!

    • Great to hear from you, Kirt. You are right about growing up with haunting images of the birds from Hitchcock’s movie. He had a way of cutting right in to our psyche. Glad you enjoyed the post, Kirt, thanks so much.

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