Have you ever wondered what inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds? The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that thousands of crazed sooty shearwaters were regurgitating anchovies, flying into buildings and dying in the streets in August 1961. This event, along with a short story written by Daphne du Maurier, inspired the thrilling movie. Scientists examined the stomach contents of sea turtles and shorebirds from samples that were saved at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and almost 80 percent of the plankton the animals were eating were diatoms that produced domoic acid. This toxin causes confusion, disorientation, scratching, and even death.
Mid-summer through mid-fall every year, Monterey Bay is visited by thousands of sooty shearwaters during their annual migration. These amazing birds migrate approximately 74,000 kilometers (km) every year around the Pacific Ocean, averaging 500 km in a day. The bay provides an abundance of food that allows the shearwaters to gorge themselves on small fish, krill, squid and jellies. After filling their bellies, shearwaters will have a difficult time flying, often skimming the surface of the bay, and unable to lift off, creating the effect they are walking on water.
These curious birds lay one egg annually and incubate the egg in pairs for just under two months, then take care of the hatchling or ‘mutton-bird’ for another month or so. For generations, mutton birds have been harvested for food and oil by the Maori, an indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
This seemingly abundant bird has recently made it on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Near Threatened list because of habitat degradation in its nesting areas, and possibly because of warming ocean temperatures in their feeding grounds.
While you’re out this August and September, keep an eye out for huge flocks of gray/back birds floating on the surface of the ocean.
Learn more about the sooty shearwater here!
Look here for more information on the sooty shearwater.