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What the heck are Biospoilers?

Common Loons, American Coots and Common Moorhens in Tarzan as monkeys. Boreal and Great Horned Owls in everything, and the killer for me was California Quail in MASH.

I always had this idea of moving to Hollywood and setting up a business to provide natural history accuracy to films. Offering directors a full library of recordings of the birds appropriate to the region and time of their movies (and counseling against using improper species just because they sound spooky). Maybe even offering to travel to exotic locations to get complete Foley recordings in situ, etc. I could charge thousands of dollars of course. Oh well, i just never got around to it -- someone else well may now!

So that idea evolved into the thought of writing a giant expose article about the inaccuracies of film biology and some years ago i began making a list to that end. What you'll find below is a compilation of my efforts -- the things i've found, plus contributions from my many birding/cinephile friends, and most recently as a result of multiple requests online to the birding community which has responded enthusiastically. (And i might as well do this disclaimer thing now too -- i've been compiling this and relying on the wisdom of my friends, and also of strangers. Since the info has come in rather rapidly i haven't had the chance to double-check some of this info. The provider of the information is listed along with their thoughts here. If i have verified the info it has my initials (tg) after the listing. The ones i initiated have my initials to begin with.)

In general, movies made in the settings where the fiction is taking place fare the best assuming they don't Foley in from sound effects collections. Locally obtained Foley is usually pretty good. And simple background sounds in synced recording can be nothing but perfect unless anachronistic (for instance House Sparrows in a revolutionary era US colonies piece. Why? Because House Sparrows, though common across the country now, were not introduced from Europe until the 19th century.)

Concepts: Rarities in other locales, introductions, Foley definition, sound effects, CG SFX
Caracara (1999) via Erik Breden
Fictionalized Washington D.C. presumably

Well what could be the excuse for this one?: Okay, this is apparently a formula presidential assasination plot thing in which Caracara (a fine group of new world raptors in the Falcon subfamily) is a metaphor for the predatory nature of the assassins. But, and i haven't been able to find this thing (which apparently was so poor it ended up only on TV) to see for myself, but the collateral victim is apparently a falconer. Film word is the bird she carries is a Caracara, except that the bird she's carrying is really the baseline apprentice bird falconers train with -- a Harris's Hawk, which is neither a falcon, nor closely related to or of any real resemblance to a Caracara. It's a bird though, right?! As a side note i have some great pictures i took on the King Ranch in the 1970's of Harris's Hawks and Crested Caracaras side by side feeding on a pelican carcass. Thanks to Erik Breden who pointed this one out to me back about the time it was released. P.s. In the online movie trailer the name is pronounced like "Car -a Car-a" whilst most birders that i know say "Care-a Care-a" (there's room for disagreement here). And if you want to dig around in some birding egos check out the Texbirds listserv for the discussion over whether the Crested Caracara or the Golden Eagle is the national bird of Mexico.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002) tg
Fictionalized Savannah, Georgia

At least the director knows they goofed on this one: Okay the movie involves an attack by Mountain Lions that kill a kid (that's a spoiler in its own right, sorry). But that is not the issue. The lions are in a wildlife park, and in a way the story is plausible, even though we wildlife people know that such attacks are rare. It is a plot point in the movie, and thus was not casually thrown in. The real issue is about a dog. The two buddies in the film find a dog hit by a car, and grief over the dog is also an emotionally-charged plot point. The dog dies in situ and one of the boys carries it off. Well, when you watch the film you'll see the dog is suddenly stuffed -- as in taxidermied (and poorly so). It looks ridiculous. I'd have just written it up as being poorly done and been done with it. However, since i'm doing the film thing, and liked the movie, i watched the film again on DVD with the director's making of commentary, and there, when this particular scene arrives, is a pretty funny explanation. The dog that was "dying" as the scene begins was a trained dog that lies down and pants on command and did fine. But apparently they had done so many takes that the dog got tired of cooperating, and refused to be carried off, looking dead, to end the scene. The taxidermied dog was a fast make-do job and it just didn't work. It was so bad, and the director noticed, that they eventually cut out most of the scene where the dog could be seen. Unfortunately, enough of the scene had to be used, that anyone will see the stuffed sub. So, at least i'll give them credit for knowing . . . and the movie is really pretty good. Online credits incidentally consider this an American film. It does have a US setting and American actors, however in the two video stores where i have seen it it is in the foreign film section. I believe it may be Canadian in production origin, though oddly the only different version available is Argentinian. Go figure. (P.s. see the listing below for Everything or Nothing for some hint of similar troubles with animal actors).

Everything or Nothing (2005) tg
Fictionalized Setting: Austin, Texas

It's a good thing animals don't have their own union: The exploding bird cage, the missing dog, Natasha Melnick

Finding Forrester (2000) tg
 Fictionalized Setting: Manhattan

The big error: Forrester is a reclusive, Pulitzer prize-winning author living in an essentially boarded up Manhattan apartment. Depending on how you view the film, either he discovers a young punk who is a great writer, or the kid discovers the long-lost Forrester. Whichever. Forrester, it turns out, is a birder (birdwatcher to the unbaptized), and with his young protege present, looks out his tenement window into a rather nice yard and discovers a warbler flitting about. Indeed, the camera catches a nice look at a Parulid warbler in a bush. Forrester identifies it as a Connecticut Warbler, and describes it as rare in this neck of the woods. Unfortunately for the prize-winning author the bird pictured is not a Connecticut Warbler, but a Yellow Warbler. And one final bon mot -- Sean Connery, who plays Forrester, is himself a birder and would likely know better.

Guinevere (1993) tg
Fictionalized Setting: Medieval Britain

Probable actual soundtrack species that are out of place: Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, American Crow

Probable Foley soundtrack species inappropriate for place: Common Loon, computer mixed amalgamation of Boreal, Northern Saw-Whet and Eastern Screech-Owl

Discussion: All of the identified species on the soundtrack are native to North America. The fact that Blue Jay, American Crow and Northern Cardinal are on the background track (probably) is a simple indication that the scenes were filmed in North America not Britain, and the combination of the three makes it likely to have been filmed in the eastern US. Boreal Owl is circumpolar and a localized rarity in Britain, but most unlikely in the setting of the film, and further is strangely edited and obviously Foleyed. Common Loon is possible within the geographical locale, but is used in woodland backgrounds which would be nigh impossible and thus is also likely a Foley effect.

Harry Potter
I: and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) tg
II: and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) tg
III: and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) tg
Fictionalized England

Just to name names: Well, you can't hardly have the wrong critters in something that's completely fictional. Science fiction actually is the line you draw where anything goes i think. I just wanted to put these in here, because they have apparently popularized Snowy Owls (Harry's companion du jour) to such a point that there is an educational campaign to point out that it's not legal to possess owls as pets, especially the scarce Snowy Owl. I am pretty fascinated by the range of owls they use in the film (apparently all trained individuals). The species i can ferret out (no biospoiler intended) are: Snowy Owl (circumpolar), xxxxx

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) tg
Fictionalized America

Might be okay, might not: This film caught my eye early on because of the story it was based on. I have not yet seen the film, but i have a copy of the trailer. The kid in the story is severely abused and has recurring nightmares which are intended to be symbolic, and feature lots of red birds and red feathers. Well a CG version of one dream shows a parade of Northern Cardinal still lifes. They are truly red, would occur in the places the movie takes place and look real. Some dreams however have red crows. Despite the famous Blackfeet chief named Red Crow, and the actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman, there are no red crows of any species in nature. But the birds in the dream are quite clearly red and quite clearly crows. Now, in a dream anything goes as far as i'm concerned, but i'm hoping it doesn't lead folks to believe there are actually red crows.

M*A*S*H (1970) tg
Fictionalized Korea

Probable actual soundtrack species that are out of place: California Quail

Vertical Limit (2000) tg
Fictionalized "trapped on" Mt. Everest

Why filmmakers should stay away from animals (or bless the SPCA): Okay, maybe that's a bit strong, but the whole idea of Biospoilers is to point out how, even in the most obsessive quest for accuracy by filmmmakers somehow the natural world is always completely dismissed. So, let's ignore the possibility of any raptor at 25,000 feet in the Himalayas (feeding on what? snow lizards?), and let's ignore that the filmmakers apparently thought a Golden Eagle (or some other Aquila species) would frequent Nepal. Let's just focus on the amazing and breathtaking views of the world's most fantastic rocks, until, what's this affording our aerial view? An eagle, no, the most ludicrously fake animatronic "raptor" of all time. From that opening sequence it was impossible for me to watch the movie with some "what the hell could be next" smirk. And sure enough, off the biospoiler beaten track, ol' Deus ex Machina shows up over and over. So outside of the flea-bitten taxidermy passing for an eagle, the movie was just plain lousy.

Wild America (1997) tg
Fictionalized travels across America

Why this is quite possibly the worst "wildlife" movie ever made: Let's start with a story.

The bears. The horse in a moose costume

BIRD Chat search complete 1995-1999

Date:         Tue, 10 Sep 1996 20:44:50 -0700
Reply-To:     Frank Gibson <frank_gibson@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"   <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU>
From:         Frank Gibson <frank_gibson@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Birds in Movies
In-Reply-To:  <> from "Julian Bielewicz" at Sep 9, 96 06:43:49 am


Last night I watched Disney's "Operation Dumbo Drop", which is set in Viet Nam.
Does anybody know what variety of crow the superstitious soldier sees
a couple of times?  I thought its bill looked too big to be an
American Crow, but I'm not sure.  Are there black crows in Viet Nam?

After the ridiculous American Robin in "Mary Poppins"'s London I'm not
expecting authenticity out of Disney!

Madden Library
California State University, Fresno

Date:         Fri, 6 Sep 1996 09:16:22 -0400
Reply-To:     "Robert G. Bernstein" <atlantex@MIDCOAST.COM>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         "Robert G. Bernstein" <atlantex@MIDCOAST.COM>
Subject:      Birds in Movies
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

I happened to catch a bit of the _Great_Escape_" on cable the other night.
Anyone remember the bird the prisoners are learning to draw when the camp
guards walk in for inspection? There's a chalk rendering of it on the
blackboard and the actor playing the part of the "forger" is busy pointing
out distinguishing marks.


Capt. R. G. Bernstein                      voice: (207) 372-8621
Atlantic Expeditions                       e-mail:
St. George, Maine 04857                    Tours to Matinicus Rock & Seal I.

Date:         Mon, 5 Aug 1996 08:51:12 -0600
Reply-To:     Terry Schiefer <tschiefer@ENTOMOLOGY.MSSTATE.EDU>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Terry Schiefer <tschiefer@ENTOMOLOGY.MSSTATE.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Bird Accuracy in Movies
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Frank Gibson writes:

>Anybody know what the background calls in the opening "jungle" scenes
>of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are?

As best I can recall one of the birds was a Willow Ptarmigan!

Terence Lee Schiefer
Mississippi Entomological Museum
Box 9775
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775
ph: 601-325-2989
FAX: 601-325-8837

Date:         Fri, 2 Aug 1996 16:30:55 -0700
Reply-To:     Frank Gibson <frank_gibson@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Frank Gibson <frank_gibson@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Bird Accuracy in Movies
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII


In the 40's and 50's--probably even later--nearly any "jungle" movie
or TV show you want to name had Northern Flicker loudly hollering in
the background.  I wonder if they lived in the concrete tree trunks I
remember from a fifth grade field trip in the Los Angeles area!  We
were told the phony trees were from an old Tarzan movie.

Anybody know what the background calls in the opening "jungle" scenes
of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are?

Madden Library
California State University, Fresno

Date:         Fri, 2 Aug 1996 12:10:51 -0400
Reply-To:     Hank Burchard <burchard@TWP.COM>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Hank Burchard <burchard@TWP.COM>
Subject:      Re: Bird Accuracy in movies
Comments: To: Franklin Haas <pabirds@REDROSE.NET>
In-Reply-To:  <>
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

On Fri, 2 Aug 1996, Franklin Haas wrote:

>         My favorite was in the movie "Quest for Fire," a movie about
> prehistoric man in Africa. In one seen a group of them were walking across a
> savannah (miles and miles of grass with NO TREES) the background bird calls
> included Black-capped Chickadee and Pileated Woodpecker!

     Um, I missed that. I guess I was distracted by whatsername's
authentic unclothing....

     Hank Burchard * <> * Washington DC | USA

Date:         Thu, 1 Aug 1996 13:35:54 -0500
Reply-To:     Nancy L Newfield <nln01@GNOFN.ORG>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Nancy L Newfield <nln01@GNOFN.ORG>
Subject:      Re: Bird accuracy misuse
Comments: To: Gail Mackiernan <GAIL%UMDD.BITNET@CMSA.Berkeley.EDU>
In-Reply-To:  <>
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

Hi Y'All,

I seem to have the talent (or curse) of seeing and hearing misplaced
birds in the backgrounds of movies and TV shows.  Murder She Wrote must
be the most egregious.  One episode was set in Charleston, South
Carolina, but there in the background I heard a Common Loon and a Western
Screech-Owl.  To make matters worse, the plantation home where the action
took place was one familiar to me as a resident of Louisiana.

On Thu, 1 Aug 1996, Gail Mackiernan wrote:
> On the other hand, the British TV shows usually seem to have the right birds.
> If the action is taking place at some old mansion, the call of the Little Owl
> is heard. Woodlands ring with Willow Warblers, hedges with Robins. Barry
> was quite pleased with a Sherlock Holmes episode taking place on some pine/
> heathland that featured Curlew and Redpoll calls.

But, Gail's comments are right on.  Some years ago, I spent a delightful
couple of weeks looking for filming sites with two producers from the
BBC.  The film was to be a drama about John James Audubon and how he
developed the concept for Birds of America - though the film was never

My instructions were to find sites where there would be no wildlife or
plants that would be visible or audible that would not possibly have been
present prior to 1830 - a tall order!  No European Starlings squawking on
telephone lines!  No airplanes or trains!  No Japanese Honeysuckle
overgrowing barbed wire fences!  No nutrias swimming in the bayou!  They
wanted huge Bald Cypress draped with lush Spanish Moss.

We spent countless hours in a boat searching for relatively secluded
swamps and finally found a site near the Atchafalaya River that had few
exotics - but filming was to be the following April, Water Hyacinth would
be in full bloom.  "No problem", I was told.  We'll hire a crew of locals
and rake it out.

Any time I see a film with those producers' names on it, I have real
respect for the efforts they invest in making a show that is as accurate
and true to life as possible given the contemporary world in which we live.


Nancy L. Newfield       ***********************************************
Casa Colibri            * 15 August is International Hummingbird Day! *
Metairie, LA            ***********************************************

Date:         Thu, 1 Aug 1996 12:52:00 +0200
Reply-To:     Wim Vader <wim@IMV.UIT.NO>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Wim Vader <wim@IMV.UIT.NO>
Subject:      Re: bird accuracy misuse
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

        The Collared dove Streptopelia decaocto has spread all over Europe
in the last 50 years or so, and was completely absent previously.
Nevertheless, it often is the dominant birdsound in historical movies and TV
series (e.g. Pride and Prejudice, or even Robin Hood).

                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                        9037 Tromsoe, Norway

Date: Wed, 31 Jul 1996 16:23:00 -0400 Reply-To: "melanie (m.) hopkins" <mhopkins@NORTEL.CA> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: "melanie (m.) hopkins" <mhopkins@NORTEL.CA> Subject: Re: Bird accuracy misuse Comments: cc:
Hi Everybody, The one call my husband knows for sure is the Red-winged Blackbird. He recognized on an episode of Higlander a few months back. An episode which takes place entirely in Europe. He looked it up and according to our references, this bird's range is entirely in North America. I explained it by saying the scene was occuring in the 16th century and maybe back then Wurope was within its range. :) I guess this must happen a lot for TV shows and movies filmed at some location other than the one they are purporting to be. Mellie Melanie Hopkins Cary, NC

Date:         Sat, 3 Feb 1996 23:41:45 +1100
Reply-To:     Trevor Quested <quested@JOLT.MPX.COM.AU>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Trevor Quested <quested@JOLT.MPX.COM.AU>
Subject:      Re: Nature fakers
Comments: To: "Byron Butler (GD 1995)" <byron.butler@YALE.EDU>
In-Reply-To:  <>

I haved read the debate with interest, enjoying the well written messages.
I read many of them this morning and it was stimulating enough to think
about them when my wife and I went for a ferry ride around Sydney
harbour after lunch. Sun on my back and a perfect summer's day with blue
sky and yachts everywhere. Afterwards we went to the flicks (movies) and
saw the best nature faker show in town; Babe. Even though it was filmed
two hours south of Sydney it has got some funny birds calling in it. What
are they? I recognized Tawny Owl, which is in every film when night-time is

Anyway thank you all for the interesting threads of late. May you have
Lyrebirds in your gardens, King Parrots on your verandah rails, and while
sleeping may a Sooty Owl visit.

Trevor Quested
Sydney Australia

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 07:31:58 -0700 Reply-To: Christopher Joseph Lyons <lyonscj@MAILEXCITE.COM> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Christopher Joseph Lyons <lyonscj@MAILEXCITE.COM> Organization: MailExcite ( Subject: Birds in Movies/TV Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Since the subject of movies featuring birds calling in unlikely places has appeared yet again, I think it is high time to pay tribute to that most omnipresent of bird species, an intrepid traveller that has established itself throughout the entire cinematic globe--The Common Loon! No Tarzan movie shot along some fetid African river, no outdoorsy scene in the American or the open prairies of the American Midwest is complete without the sound of calling Loons. What a union they must have! The Redtailed Hawk, the Kookaburra, the House Wren--yes, these are all honorable contenders, but only the Common Loon, which I have heard calling exactly once when camping in the Adirondacks on a frigid night in May, combines a shrinking breeding range with an ever expanding ouevre of exciting film roles. As a fan of "The X-Files", I am particularly intrigued by the fact that Loons are heard calling whenever Mulder and Scully are seen hunting aliens in some wilderness area in Georgia or Florida or whatever. You don't suppose that Loons are really from---but now I go too far. Seriously, couldn't some birder set up a business selling geographically correct bird calls to Hollywood? I'd buy stock. Christopher Lyons Bronx, NY

Date:         Wed, 15 Oct 1997 19:44:50 -0500
Reply-To:     oscar carmona <ocarmona@JUNO.COM>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         oscar carmona <ocarmona@JUNO.COM>
Subject:      Birds in Movies
Comments: To: ekirschb@MAIL.BCPL.LIB.MD.US

Recently there were posts about bird and bird songs that came out in
movies. I recently saw the movie KISS THE GIRLS with Morgan Freeman. The
movie is set in and around Durham, North Carolina. Anyway the calls of
Great Kiskadee can be heard everytime the movie is set in the woods.
Interesting call to have in a movie.

P.S. The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival will be held in Harlingen, TX
November 12-16, 1997. There will be field trips, seminars, workshops,
keynote speakers and a nature and art fair. Speakers will include Kenn
Kaufman, Pete Dunne, Jon Dunn and Paul Johnsgard. For info call the
Harlingen Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-531-7346.

Oscar Carmona
Rio Grande Birding Tours-Specializing in South Texas Birding
221 W. McKinley
Harlingen, TX 78550

Date: Thu, 21 Aug 1997 11:17:55 -0700 Reply-To: Carl & Cathi <tomscar@LASERCOM.NET> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Carl & Cathi <tomscar@LASERCOM.NET> Subject: Recent Birds In The Movies Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
Hi All, My teenagers were raving about a recent movie ("You gotta see it, Mom"), so I unwittingly allowed them to rent "Scream". The title itself should have warned me, but I was asleep at the wheel, or something. Those of you who don't mind murder and mayhem, blood and gore galore will LOVE this movie, but to my mind its only redeeming feature was the BIRD CALL. Fortunately this call is in the first 15 minutes of the film so you can skip the rest of the gore. I THINK what I heard is a Canyon Wren, heard as Drew Barrymore unwisely unlocks her front door to search the porch. This is at night, in a suburb. Anyone else noticed this bird ? Cathi Tomsen Hemet, CA

Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 23:31:57 -0600 Reply-To: Tony Leukering <jaegers@ECENTRAL.COM> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Tony Leukering <jaegers@ECENTRAL.COM> Subject: Re: Wrong bird songs in movies Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
Howdy: The best ones I remember were the Common Loon and Willow Ptarmigan (!!!) in the forests of Peru in "Raiders of the Lost Ark!" -- Tony Leukering Brighton, CO

Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 10:18:00 -0400 Reply-To: MiriamEagl@AOL.COM Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Mary Beth Stowe <MiriamEagl@AOL.COM> Subject: Re: Wrong Bird Songs in [The Lost World]
In a message dated 97-06-22 14:24:46 EDT, FBMagpie@USA.NET (Wayne Hsu) writes: << I just watched The Lost World this morning, surely (together with JP) the most realistic and impressive dinosaur movies I've ever seen. I agree, the inac- curacies are just too obvious. The redwoods and Kookaburras can't fool anybody, and chasing a herd of dinos on a golf course?! But I do wonder, since I don't know many American bird calls, are all the bird calls in the redwood forest inaccurate additions, or are they birds that were really there in the forest when they filmed it? I seem to recognize some, though I can't name the species. >> Having just seen the movie last night, I did indeed recognize a couple of "authentic" bird calls: near the beginning of the film a bellbird was calling (which in Costa Rica would have been Three-wattled, but the recording could have been Bare-throated for all I could tell), and in the scene where the "troops" were taking a break in the Redwood forest ;-) there was indeed some kind of nightingale thrush singing; my guess was Slaty-backed. Other odd noises I didn't recognize, so whether they were authentic vocalizations or some kind of electronic, synthesized bird sound, I couldn't tell (and technology is certainly capable of doing that these days). Mary Beth Stowe San Diego, CA

Date:         Thu, 19 Jun 1997 19:12:48 -0400
Reply-To:     "H. Christian Floyd" <chrisf@MAIL01.MITRE.ORG>
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         "H. Christian Floyd" <chrisf@MAIL01.MITRE.ORG>
Subject:      Wrong Bird Symbols in Ads

The discussion about wrong bird songs in movies prompts me to mention a
television ad for the Knights of Columbus I have seen run several times now
in the Boston area.  The knight in grand dress rides his charger
majestically over a grand landscape while a voice extols the virtues of this
organization.  At one point a gracefully soaring dark bird appears
prominently in the skyscape behind the knight.  Surely they wanted you to
think "eagle."  Each time I see this pompous ad I get more amused, as I
wonder whether they would be disappointed to learn that their bird is really
a Turkey Vulture.

Chris Floyd
Lexington, MA

Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 14:52:37 -0700 Reply-To: Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Martha DeHart <mdehart@FRONTIERNET.NET> Subject: Movie/TV bird song Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
I've been enjoying this thread. I'm always listening to the birdsong in movies. It seems to me it's usually wrong... like the countless times I've heard an exuberant Northern Mockingbird rollicking away in the background of a movie that's supposed to be taking place somewhere in Europe. I'm sure someone must have already mentioned the loon and kookaburra songs they used in old Tarzan movies. Other than Tarzan, I have a lousy memory for particular movies, because the norm is that the background birdsong is incorrect. As a matter of fact, I recollect one that impressed me because it was right -- The Big Chill. There's a scene outdoors where a very lovely Yellow-throated Warbler song can be heard from some big old live oaks. The song I hear ALL the time used in US TV commercials is, curiously, the "chirry chirry chirry, chorry chorry" song of the Mourning Warbler. Unless it's a Macgillivray's, which may sound pretty much the same, I don't know. But either way, why sound designers have decided this particular song exemplifies "country freshness" or whatever is a fascinating mystery to me (and I'm in advertising myself). They seem to run it behind almost any suburban or country setting, indicating they obviously don't know anything about the actual bird. No surprise there, I guess. Hollywood and Madison Ave. (both of which can be a fairly rarified world not known for being tuned in to things natural) may still think birders are sneaker-clad little old ladies, despite the demographics. -- Marty DeHart Rochester, NY

Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 16:58:51 -0400 Reply-To: MisterX@NYCNET.COM Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: MisterX <MisterX@NYCNET.COM> Organization: NYC NET Subject: Re: Wrong bird songs in movies Comments: To: HDAyer@CBCCTS.SK.CA Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
The latest version of LITTLE WOMEN, with Winona Ryder, had a Northern Cardinal singing--accurate for the Boston area today, but an extreme rarity back in the era that film is set in. Many years back, there was a Sidney Poitier/Tom Berenger action film (called POINT BLACK, or something like that) set in the Pacific Northwest...with a Wood Thrush on the soundtrack! Chris Cooper New York, NY

Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 15:18:28 GMT-0600 Reply-To: "H.D. (Sandy) Ayer" <HDAyer@CBCCTS.SK.CA> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: "H.D. (Sandy) Ayer" <HDAyer@CBCCTS.SK.CA> Organization: Canadian Bible College Subject: Wrong bird songs in movies Content-type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Greetings, chatters, I'm wondering whether anyone out there is as ornithologically pedantic as I when it comes to listening to bird songs that appear in movie soundtracks. I take perverse delight in finding ones that don't fit, e.g. White-throated Sparrow in Robin Hood (Kevin Kostner version. Of course, a mismatched bird song pales in comparison with a Robin Hood with a Midwestern accent as far as lack of verismilitude is concerned!) To be fair, though, I should admit that WTS is listed as an accidental for Great Britain! I'd be interested in finding out the bird song bloopers that others have discovered in hit movies. Thanks. Sandy Ayer H.D. (Sandy) Ayer Director of Library Services Canadian Bible College/Canadian Theological Seminary 4400 4th Ave. Regina, SK Canada S4T 0H8 fax 306-545-0210 phone 306-545-1515 (work) 306-949-1253 (home)

Date: Thu, 20 Mar 1997 14:09:00 CDT Reply-To: "Stielstra, Julie" <JSTIELST@NCH.ORG> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: "Stielstra, Julie" <JSTIELST@NCH.ORG> Subject: Movie bird confession
I never would have thought. I just completed a basic birdsong course at my local community college. After several weeks of desperate tape-listening, I've begun to get a feel for some of them. Last Saturday we went to the movies (Sling Blade - I recommend it!). And, unable to control myself, I leaned over and whispered "Ovenbird!" triumphantly in my long-suffering partner's ear, and settled happily back in my seat. Fortunately, I was able to restrain myself for the remainder of the film. I should have taken heed of the earlier warnings posted here... Julie Stielstra Lyons, IL (outside Chicago, just not far enough!)

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 17:12:31 -0500 Reply-To: Agemmill@AOL.COM Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Arlene Gemmill <Agemmill@AOL.COM> Subject: Birds in Movies - Picasso Owl
There has been a thread now for several weeks about birds in movies. I just saw Merchant/Ivory's Surviving Picasso, a very good film. But it has a small owl flying around in broad daylight (in putative South of France) and flying off with a feral cat larger then itself. And then to cap if off, "Picasso" (Anthony Hopkins) is then shown sketching the owl with his right hand. Merchant/Ivory are renowed for the painstaking verisimilitude of their costumes and sets. But didn't they make a bird mistake with the owl? I know they erred in not showing Picasso's left-handedness. Arlene San Francisco, CA

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 1997 09:23:23 -0500 Reply-To: Jerrold Griggs <griggs@MATH.SC.EDU> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Jerrold Griggs <griggs@MATH.SC.EDU> Subject: Re: Birds in the Cinema
I expect that there is some interesting bird footage in older movies, made before the studios were so well-stocked with nature sounds and images and before they had such sophisticated editing capability. We recently saw the movie, "I Remember Mama" from the early 1950's. One particularly moving scene featured the Uncle on his deathbed at home out in the country in Northern California. It was a sunny day, with shadows in the room from trees in the yard (though it was probably just a movie set). There was a lot of bird noise in the background--a group of Acorn Woodpeckers is my guess (but we don't have any over here for me to check this)! I was surprised that such believable, noisy bird sounds were selected. They were certainly there intentionally, and they sounded great. I hope some Birdchatter can confirm this ID. Have Acorn Woodpeckers appeared in other films? They are such clowns that they should be ideal for movies. It would be fun to identify birds appearing in even older films. I bet one can hear lots of Wrentits, California Quails, and so on in Hollywood grade-B westerns, tropical adventures, sci-fi thrillers, etc. from the 30's and 40's--unless the sound equipment back then was poor at picking up sounds. I'm referring here more to sounds from the wild birds that happened to be near where filming occurred, rather than sounds that were added by the studio (such as the Kookaburra calls in Tarzan movies). In some films, evidence of the modern world appears by mistake. I remember seeing a busy street with automobile traffic in the distance in "Elmer Gantry", for instance. Probably airplanes or jets can be detected in some old westerns. I wonder what birds made unplanned appearances (sight or sound) in the movies? -- Jerry Griggs, Department of Mathematics, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 USA email: homepage: ~griggs/"

Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1997 21:18:46 -0500 Reply-To: RLEWIS@MURRAY.FORDHAM.EDU Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: "Robert H. Lewis" <RLEWIS@MURRAY.FORDHAM.EDU> Subject: birds in the movies
Chatters, By far the stupidest boner relating to birds and movies taht I ever saw was in a made-for-TV movie that first aired around 1980, called "The Mating Game." There were one or two famous actresses in it, whose names I forget -- Sally Field or Marlo Thomas or somebody(?) The plot was that two women who couldn't find husbands were going to take a vacation or scouting trip to the Great Smokies in western N. Carolina in June at some kind of resort. I won't bore you with the details. They either take a birdwatching class or meet a birder or something. Anyway, the highpoint of the movie for me was when on a hike -- in the Smokies in June -- the leader points out, "Oh look, a Hudsonian Godwit nest!" Everybody looks up in the tree and oohs and ahhs at the Hudsonian Godwits. I saw the movie again a few years later on TV. Don't know if they changed it. (I doubt it.) There's more. Mike Tove, a noted North Carolina birder, was then a graduate student at a University in western N. Carolina. He told me that one of the writers or producers came to see him at the University and asked about birds in the area! Mike definitely did not tell them to put in the Hudsonian Godwit bit. Robert H. (Bob) Lewis Home: Sleepy Hollow NY Professor of Mathematics Phone: 914-332-9793 Fordham University Bronx NY 10458 email:

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 22:39:56 -0500 Reply-To: Peter Browne <pbrowne@CYBERHOME.CYBERUS.CA> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Peter Browne <pbrowne@CYBERHOME.CYBERUS.CA> Subject: Re: birds in movies: The English Patient Comments: To: Ginger Travis <> In-Reply-To: <> Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
I too was struck by the bird songs in this movie and did not think them out of place. I was brought up in Europe. There were certainly Chaffinches and I think European Robin and House Bunting, but I cannot recall them all as I was too interested in tèe story! Peter Browne Ottawa, Canada On Thu, 23 Jan 1997, Ginger Travis wrote: > Well, chatters, here's what Birdchat has done to me. > > While watching the most romantic movie in recent memory, The English > Patient, I had my concentration totally broken in a scene with loud > birdsong in the background -- the location being either Cairo or Italy, I > can't remember which. My thought: " Hey, wow, birds! Wonder if those are > real Egyptian (Italian) birds? Bet they're not. Bet they're the birds of > New Zealand dubbed in. Or Manitoba. You know how those Hollywood guys > are. Wonder what Birdchatters think of this?" > > Well, chatters? Did I do the moviemaker an injustice? > (Apologies if you already discussed this while I was off line over > Christmas and New Year's.) > > Ginger Travis > Chapel Hill, NC >

Date:         Sat, 18 Oct 1997 08:59:12 -0400
Reply-To:     MiriamEagl@AOL.COM
Sender:       "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)"
From:         Mary Beth Stowe <MiriamEagl@AOL.COM>
Subject:      Re: Birds in Movies/TV

Hi, Chatters!

The all-time prize for bird bloopers in movies (IMHO) has to go to the sequel
that was made to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds": a made-for-TV movie called
"The Birds II - Land's End".  For those who haven't seen it, it takes place
off the coast of North Carolina and is about a family taking a summer
vacation there.  The dog gets hold of a starling and the girls nurse it back
to health and it becomes their pet.  Starling gets away.  Starling returns at
night, pecking at the window.  Girls open window to let him in, likewise
letting in a bazillion pigeons (i.e., Rock Doves) who tear up the room and
subsequently kill the starling.  They're getting ready to bury the thing when
the old lighthouse keeper comes by and the guy takes the starling (beautiful
basic-plumaged adult, spots and all) and says, "Have you ever seen this bird
in these parts?" and the old guy says (with a heavy Old World accent, as best
I can make out), "That's a Black-naped Tern!  There's never been such a thing
here!"  (He also called a Laughing Gull a Brown-hooded Gull, which is guess
is more forgivable...) My non-birding friend's response to all this was,
"You'd think they'd consult someone who was knowledgable so they'd at least
get their facts straight!"

Either that, or refrain from using a starling to cameo for a rare bird...!

Mary Beth Stowe
San Diego, CA

Date: Mon, 13 Jul 1998 18:18:57 -0600 Reply-To: Todd Tracy <ttracy@LAMAR.COLOSTATE.EDU> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Todd Tracy <ttracy@LAMAR.COLOSTATE.EDU> Subject: Birds heard in "The Horse Whisperer"
I went to see The Horse Whisperer yesterday, and I was amazed at the number of different bird songs and calls I heard in the movie. As a birder, I found it distracting, but since it was pretty much a 'chick flick', I found the avian soundtrack to be an enjoyable distraction. I don't normally keep track of birds in movies (except to note that loons don't normally call in deserts and jungles), but the birds in the movie were so prevalent that I thought I'd make an exception this time, and I wanted to see whether any fellow chatters are/were able to i.d. the birds that I missed. Here's my list: 1. Eastern (sic) meadowlark - I heard only one song, so I may be mistaken. The movie takes place in Montana, but that doesn't mean much. 2. Northern Flicker 3. Song sparrow 4. Spotted towhee 5. Canada goose 6. Rock wren 7. House wren 8. Black-capped chickadee - There were even a few gargle calls included! 9. Common nighthawk 10. Downy woodpecker - 90% sure 11. Dark-eyed junco 12. Black-billed magpie - Maybe... I heard this one right at the end of the movie. Maybe it was a different corvid... Anyhow, there were at least 6 other species that I heard but couldn't identify. Anyone out there with any additions to my list? By the way, I'm happy to report that there were no cheesy red-tailed hawk screams during the shots of the beautiful mountain scenery. TTT Todd Thomas Tracy (anagram= "Try a most odd chat") / - Department of Biology Colorado State University = o \_____/ Ft. Collins, CO 80523 \___\___/ (970) 491-5770 (wk) / 203-0403 (home) I \ ............ I / vvvvvvvvvvvvvvv ~ttracy" (virtual tour of Rocky Mt. National Park)

Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 17:42:13 -0400 Reply-To: richard stern <rbstern@NS.SYMPATICO.CA> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: richard stern <rbstern@NS.SYMPATICO.CA> Subject: Re: Birds in the Movies Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
On the subject of birds in the movies, especially inappropriate one, a few years ago a movie was made of Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Scarlet Letter, starring Demi Moore. Th story is set in Mass. and the movie was made mostly in and around Shelburne, NS, with woodland scenes from coastal BC, about 5000 miles west, liberally interspersed. Demi kept seeing and catching an apparently wild bright red bird, which was supposed to be symbolic of something but didn't really fit in to the story. After some research I finally found it in Sparrows and Finches by Clement et al - it's a Scarlet Finch, whose range is central Nepal and N.E. India! Incidentally that book is great on Hoary redpoll ID - here in the Maritimes there's a big Redpoll irruption taking place. ************************** Richard Stern Kentville, NS Canada

Date: Wed, 24 Nov 1999 06:42:23 -0500 Reply-To: Elliot Kirschbaum <ekirschb@BCPL.NET> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Elliot Kirschbaum <ekirschb@BCPL.NET> Subject: Re: Bogus Bird Calls Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
On 11/22/99 8:19 PM The Stonicks said >A few recent threads reminded me of something I'm sure we all have >experienced from time to time. That is, in movies with outdoor scenes, >where the birds or bird calls are totally inappropriate for the location. Last week, I watched a PBS program (which one, I cannot now remember). In one segment, the naration was about Costa Rica, but the bird calling in the background was a Screaming Piha. Elliot Kirschbaum Baltimore, MD USA

Date: Tue, 23 Nov 1999 07:50:12 -0600 Reply-To: "dianne.m.quilty" <dianne.m.quilty@BANKOFAMERICA.COM> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: "dianne.m.quilty" <dianne.m.quilty@BANKOFAMERICA.COM> Subject: Re: Bogus Bird Calls Content-type: text/plain
Oh definitely -- almost every time a Bald Eagle is shown soaring and calling on a TV program, the call is that of a Red-tailed Hawk. Also, many winter scenes have summer birdsong in the background. Some sound engineers could do with more education on their sounds. Dianne M. Quilty > -----Original Message----- > From: stonicks [SMTP:stonicks@EARTHLINK.NET] > Sent: Monday, November 22, 1999 8:20 PM > To: BIRDCHAT > Subject: [BIRDCHAT] Bogus Bird Calls > > Chatters: > > A few recent threads reminded me of something I'm sure we all have > experienced from time to time. That is, in movies with outdoor scenes, > where the birds or bird calls are totally inappropriate for the location. > A couple of examples: (1) In the remake of "The Parent Trap," the young > fiancee who was pushed out into a central California lake on her air > mattress is awakened by a bird. It's not a crow or jay, however, but some > kind of tropical bird, green with a red crest. (2) In the movie "The > Shawshank Redemption," there's a scene where one character goes to a > hayfield in Maine to look for something left by another. While there, you > distinctly hear the call of a Cactus Wren. (3) The (formerly) common use > of Laughing Kookaburra in jungle movies. Does anyone remember any other, > either calls or birds which are just plain out of place? > > Regards, > Ed Stonick > <>

Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 08:11:55 -0500 Reply-To: Don and Lee Richardson <CDPlace@CONCENTRIC.NET> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Don and Lee Richardson <CDPlace@CONCENTRIC.NET> Subject: Re: ] Planter's should stick to peanuts In-Reply-To: <> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
At 06:36 PM 6/23/99 -0700, Christine Rideout wrote: >I just saw the new Planter's nuts commercial on TV. One guy calls a >woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus, then they show an Acorn Woodpecker >(Melanerpes formicivorus) which proceeds to hammer out a carving of Mr. >Peanut. This could start not a thread but a whole rope of tales about producers of ads, and stories on movies, TV and radio and how they use something in nature that either doesn't fit or is silly. Here are a couple that come to mind. (Doesn't fit) Jessica Fletcher, for years, solved mysteries and wrote about them in a TV series called "Murder She Wrote". Usually, when there was an outdoor scene in an out-of-town surrounding, there was the sound of a Common Loon calling in the distance. In one episode, Jessica was visiting in the Carolinas and the mystery of the week was solved there. It was clearly summertime. True to form, in an outdoor scene in an out-of-town surrounding, there was the sound of a Common Loon calling in the distance. I always hoped that the Carolina bird checklist committee had checked out that site. (Silly and doesn't fit) Two soles were out birding in first daylight. They were in the deep woods on a mossy carpet. Lush green leaves were all around as they crouched behind a fallen and rotting log. You see them as hats, cheeks and chins as their eyes are behind searching binoculars and their bodies are well hidden behind their natural blind. One looks at the other and with a wide eyed expression remarks "look, a Red-winged Blackbird". Later they are seen, lolling in their treasured memory and enjoying their XYZ brand coffee. Don Richardson Pearland, Texas

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 12:20:16 -0500 Reply-To: Ronald Orenstein <ornstn@HOME.COM> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Ronald Orenstein <ornstn@HOME.COM> Subject: Re: Robins in Movies In-Reply-To: <> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
At 10:44 AM 15/03/1999 -0500, you wrote: >Hi >I have been no mail for a short time because of a recent surgery, but I wanted >to add a bit of silly stuff to the study of robins and their European >counterparts. Hollywood is not noted for its knowledge of European ornithology. My favourite moment is in "Captain Horatio Hornblower", when Gregory Peck assures the heroine that he will have her back in England in time to hear the first robin of spring. Of course British robins are (largely?) non-migratory.... -- Ronald I. Orenstein Phone: (905) 820-7886 International Wildlife Coalition Fax/Modem: (905) 569-0116 1825 Shady Creek Court Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 3W2

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:44:08 -0700 Reply-To: Doug Von Gausig <dougvg@SEDONA.NET> Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU> From: Doug Von Gausig <dougvg@SEDONA.NET> Subject: Re: Birds (was Robins) in Movies In-Reply-To: <4.1.19990315121735.01c246d0@mail> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
And weren't those Hooded Crows in the just-out "A Simple Plan"? I don't remember seeing this species so numerous in the US! Doug *************************************** Doug Von Gausig Digitally Recorded Birds Sounds at: Clarkdale, Central Arizona, USA 34°46.34N 112°03.25W e-mail: ***************************************

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2002 10:58:48 -0400
Reply-To: Allison Wells <amw25@CORNELL.EDU>
Sender: "National Birding Hotline Cooperative (Chat Line)" <BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU>
From: Allison Wells <amw25@CORNELL.EDU>

Subject: Re: Bird songs in Hollywood

Here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, renowned for our Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds, we get a lot of requests for sounds for movies, including nature docs. Many of the requests come in through me, the communications director, and I am often surprised by the kinds of questions we get. Clearly, the production staff at least, though experts on film-making, are not necessarily that knowledgeable about birds, or natural history. So it's good that they ask a lot of questions - the best films are produced by the ones that ask, no doubt. As for Hollywood, there are a couple of reasons for the mistakes. For example, some companies don't know resources such as our MLNS exist, and so they recycle the same sounds used in other films, and often the sound is being used illegally (known or unknown to the user). Of those that do know about available sound resources, some don't want to pay for use - ironically, the same studio might pay millions of dollars for an actor's salary. I've never been able to "take my birder's hat off" at the movies, but a bird-song mistake wouldn't be enough to keep me from cheering for a particular film to take the Oscar!

Allison Wells
Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2002 17:40:12 -0700
From: James Remsen
Subject: Re: Bird songs in Hollywood

We all know about the inaccurcay of bird songs in >motion pictures. Most of us can probably pick out many inaccuracies such as those described in the article Alison Wells links to. Let's face it; movies are illusion, and sound editors will use whatever material best heightens the illusion, regardless of whether it is scientifically accurate or not. They figure most people won't notice (and they're right), but of course we do notice. Still, I think sometimes when I watch a film I have to remove my "birder's hat" for a while, to maximize my enjoyment. But I often find myself making mental notes, while watching, of the mistakes. What's a bit more puzzling, to me, is the occasional inaccurate use of bird songs on the soundtracks of nature documentaries. You would think these productions would have a more rigorous set of criteria than a Hollywood film. In some programs (on PBS, no less) I have heard Hermit Thrushes and Warbling Vireos greeting the sunrise in both Africa and Australia. Has anyone else noticed these types of errors, too?

James F. Remsen, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of Physical and Biological Sciences
New York City Technical College of the City University of New York
300 Jay Street Brooklyn NY 11201