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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987