Bird Stars

Given that birds are literally everywhere in the world, it is no surprise that we have used their image and likeness in just about every human-created media you can think of. From the dawn of time when charcoal adorned cave walls to the present when AI produces multi-hued impossible hummingbirds, we celebrate birds everywhere. Today’s blog looks at just a fraction of a fraction of the most famous birds in popular culture.


Eurasian Blackbird

Whether rightly or wrongly, the British band The Beatles are arguably one of the most famous musical acts of all time. Their back catalog comprises an impressive 213 songs released over their eight-year reign in the 1960s. Blackbird is one of their most respected songs which reached number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, and can be found on their 1968 double-album known as the White Album. Written by lead singer Paul McCartney, the song is cited as a timeless classic that uses the common or Eurasian blackbird as a metaphor for the civil rights movement, conveying a message of hope and freedom (“You were only waiting for this moment to arise”). McCartney explains that he was inspired by escalating racial tensions in the United States during the spring of ’68 as well as listening to a blackbird singing one morning whilst studying transcendental meditation in India. The sparse track features McCartney’s voice, his guitar playing, his left foot tapping time, and the recording of a male blackbird singing in the background throughout.

Woody Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

American cartoonist Walter Lantz was trying to enjoy his honeymoon in the Californian hills when a sudden night-time downpour revealed all of the holes an acorn woodpecker had systematically drilled into the roof of the happy couple’s cabin during their stay. Drenched in bed, an enraged Mr Lantz headed outside to gun down the culprit, but his new wife Grace managed to convince him to express his anger through his art. Citing artistic license, Woody took on the likeness of the pileated woodpecker, as the red crest and maniacal laugh suited the frenzied nature of the Lantz’s nemesis perfectly. Woody’s signature laugh was originally voiced by Mel Blanc, but things came full circle with his last long-term voice supplied by the very person who suggested him in the first place, Grace, nee Stafford. The birding community hotly debated Woody’s real-life bird ID for years until renowned US ornithologist Kimball Garrett clarified the origins after Walter Lantz gave him a copy of his biography in the late ‘80s.

Hitchcock’s Attackers

Sooty Shearwater

No list celebrating birds in popular culture would be complete without mentioning the infamous airborne residents of Bodega Bay. Loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story bearing the same name, The Birds tells the rather demonic tale of a town besieged by suddenly murderous birds of many species. The real-life inspiration behind Mr Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film, however, is perhaps less well-known. On August 18th, 1961, residents of the town of Capitola on Monterey Bay were besieged by extremely ill and stressed sooty shearwaters as they migrated along the Californian coast. These normally docile and human-averse chocolate-colored birds had actually consumed shellfish that had themselves feasted on neurotoxic algal bloom, although this would not be established for many years afterward. Vomiting and disorientated, hundreds of the birds crashed into houses, cars, brought down telephone poles, all while terrified residents hid indoors and boarded up rapidly smashed windows. Hitchcock lived just a few miles away at the time, called the local paper to find out what was going on, and the rest is cinematic history.

These are just a few of the many weird and wonderful stories and songs that birds have influenced in our cultural history. What are your favorites?