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No. 102: Nov-Dec 1995

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The birds

Remember the Hitchcock thriller with the above title? In it, a small seaside town was invaded by birds intent upon homicide. Well, something a little bit like that really happened. The real-life event actually helped Hitchcock plan his movie -- of course, D. Du Maurier's short story with the same title helped even more! Here is what really happened on the California coast:

"In 1961, a small seaside town near Santa Cruz was bombarded by hordes of sooty shearwaters. The crazed birds pecked people, smashed into houses and cars, broke windows and staggered around vomiting pieces of anchovy over local lawns."

This attack was initially blamed on foggy weather which might have disoriented the shearwaters, which normally stay far out at sea. The latest theory is based on the erratic behavior of the birds. They may have ingested fish that carried a marine neurotoxin called domoic acid. Domoic acid is produced by marine alga that bloom frequently along the California coast. (Mestel, Rosie; "Hitch's Birds Deranged by Dodgy Anchovies," New Scientist, p. 6, July 22, 1995.)

From Science Frontiers #102 Nov-Dec 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss