Birds of the Big Screen

Hey Turtlers,

First off, I just created a BloggerheadSeaTurtle page on Facebook. I plan on sharing posts more often on Facebook than my actual blog because I will not need to prepare full posts. I will also include more frequent updates on my research and videos because free WordPress does not allow me to upload videos. So, if you are interested, go ahead and follow the BloggerheadSeaTurtle as he floats around on Facebook.

As a brief disclaimer, I do not consider myself a bird expert. My experience with birds has come from my time as a point count technician, volunteering at birding events, going to Audubon meetings, and toying around with photographing birds in my spare time. I am currently going through the Game of Thrones series because it was adamantly backed by my coworkers here in Germany. For several episodes now, I have gotten distracted by the background bird noises, but this also frequently happens to me in movies. For my point count technician job, I learned 40+ bird calls and songs in three weeks. Because of the emergency hiring, I ended up going slightly bird crazy. I would spend hours outside and online listening to birds. Whenever I was outside (in public mind you) and heard a tricky bird call, I would take a guess and then spastically run at the shrubbery to see if I was correct when the bird flew away. My grace and poise during this birding newbie stage are most closely illustrated by this clip from The Big Year. Thankfully, none of my friends or relatives refused to be associated with me after I displayed this bizarre behavior.



Picture from Galapagos


When I hear bird calls in movies/TV shows, I get distracted from the plotline. I heard a Prairie Warbler in a recent Game of Thrones episode and my thought process played out kind of like this, “What is a prairie warbler doing in Westeros? Is it a hybrid warbler because this is set in a fantasy world? I think they also used that clip in another scene… Are the prairie warblers somewhat of an invasive species in Westeros then?…” Normally, I find this type of mental distraction enjoyable, but, during Game of Thrones, it usually means that I miss someone die and consequently end up being really confused by the rest of the episode. I started wondering if other people picked up on these things in movies as well. Apparently, they do! There are several articles (and forums) about it, including one from Audubon! Professional birders have it way worse than me though as they also pick up on the irregularities in the bird’s call regarding the time of day, habitat, and geographic location. Both articles give specific movie examples if you want to check them out. I will just point out one from Sibley himself:

David Allen Sibley: “One of my personal favorites is in one of the Indiana Jones movies. The opening scene in a steamy tropical jungle includes the sound of a displaying male Willow Ptarmigan [a bird of the Arctic tundra]. Another, like many other examples, was a movie set in the Colorado Rockies in winter that included Alder Flycatcher and Mourning Warbler singing, both extremely rare in Colorado at any season, absent from the US in winter, and I think the scene had them singing at night!”



Bell’s Vireo babies (from my tech job)


I realize that most filmmakers may not care about getting correct bird background noises. The percent of the population that would care about geographically (or otherwise) accurate bird songs is extremely low. However, it is slightly odd to me that some of the filmmakers do not make a greater effort. I cannot speak for how accurate the birds in Game of Thrones are, but I have heard them use the prairie warbler noise in a city setting, a forest setting, and a barren wasteland setting. So, there is probably some room for improvement. I saw in the special features that they had a linguist literally make up an entire language just for the series! I would think that they/other producers could hire a professional birder as a consultant in the sound department for a few days.

Even if you do not know anything about bird calls, I hope that you are now a bit more aware of the famous birds of Hollywood next time you watch your favorite shows and movies! I leave you with another great clip, Sh*t Birders Say. I did not think birders were actually like this until I was a birding liaison at FeatherFest in Galveston. It is totally on point, and I love it. Have a Great-tailed Grackle of a week!



Eastern Bluebird




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