Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds, Bodega, and Ansel Adams… California’s North Coast

1 Alfred Hitchcock mannequin in Bodega California

Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds, is forever entwined in the history of the small town of Bodega, California where parts of it were filmed. A mannequin of Alfred Hitchcock welcomes people to the town. Got Birds?

I like birds. We feed a lot at our home nestled up against the Siskiyou  Mountains of southern Oregon. As I write this, I am looking out at our backyard bird feeder. It’s being stormed by Chickadees and Oregon Juncos. A couple of weeks ago it was sparrows. They attacked in mass, emptying the feeder in record time. Not only were they greedy, they were messy. As many sunflower seeds fell on the ground as went into their tummies. Scrub and Stellar Jays gobbled up the escapees, aided and abetted by a fat gray squirrel and two turkeys.

I look out on the bird feeder from my writing chair. It provides endless entertainment. You never know who might be hanging out.

I look out on the bird feeder from my writing chair. It provides endless entertainment. You never know who might be hanging out. Deer often sleep under it. This morning they were up the hill. Earlier we had counted 1o bedded down on our road and the hillside.

Interest in the bird feed goes beyond birds as this gray squirrel demonstrates. It shimmied up the pole, which was quite humorous.

Interest in the bird feed goes beyond birds as this gray squirrel demonstrates. It shimmied up the pole, which was quite humorous as he kept slipping down.

.Acorn woodpecker in Southern Oregon

I caught this Acorn Woodpecker earlier in the year. I was impressed with his Linda Blair ability to swivel his head all the way around and give me the evil eye. He would have made a great extra for Hitchcock’s film.

I went out to replenish the feeder and was roundly scolded for interfering. By everyone. When I returned with more sunflower seeds, the sparrows decided they had waited long enough. They flew down from the Madrone tree and directly into the feeder, which I was still holding! Surprised and amused, I put the feeder down, rushed inside, and grabbed my camera. Peggy wasn’t home so it would have to be a selfie. Soon I had birds perched on my head, shoulders, hands, and even on the camera. Unfortunately, their fluttering and jumping around, made photography difficult, to say the least. Luckily, a few paused to eat.

With one hand holding the feeder and my other hand my camera, I worked to catch a photo of the busy sparrows.

With one hand holding the feeder and my other hand my camera, I worked to catch a photo of the busy sparrows.

The birds reminded me of my experience in August when I visited the small town of Bodega, which is just inland from the larger town of Bodega Bay on the north coast of California. Alfred Hitchcock had come here in 1961 to film his classic horror film, The Birds. It’s a story about our feathered friends getting nasty and attacking people. I had watched the film when it had come out in 1963 and visited the area a few years later. It was in the fall season and the local birds were gathering in large flocks. Normally, being mobbed by sea gulls doesn’t bother me, but…

Bodega has incorporated the movie into its history and people still visit the area from all over the world to see where it was filmed. Local grocer Michael Fahmie has turned his Bodega Country Store into something of a monument to the movie. A large billboard featuring Alfred Hitchcock is on the outside of the store while the inside is crammed full of memorabilia from the movie. A Hitchcock mannequin greets visitors. I said hi to Al and went inside. Afterwards, I hiked the short distance over to the movie’s most famous Bodega sites: the 150-year-old Potter School and the nearby St. Teresa Catholic Church. In the movie, kids had run screaming from the school for sanctuary in the church, with the birds in hot pursuit.

Hitchcock was always great at promoting his films. This was from the Bird's movie billboard outside of the Bodega Country Store.

Hitchcock was always great at promoting his films. This was from the movie billboard outside of the Bodega Country Store.

A number of film posters are found inside the Bodega Country Store. I've included this one featuring Tippi Hedren for my followers from France.

A number of film posters are found inside the Bodega Country Store. I’ve included this one featuring Tippi Hedren for my followers in France.

A film still from The Birds shows children running from the Potter School in terror.

A film still from The Birds shows children running in terror from the Potter School (on the right).

The Potter School as it looks now. Today it is a private residence.

The Potter School as it looks now. Today it is a private residence.

10 Potter school and St. Teresa church in Bodega California

I’ve included this photo because it shows the location of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in relationship to the Potter School.

St. Teresa’s was already famous when Alfred Hitchcock came to town. In 1953 Ansel Adams photographed it. He’s one of my all time heroes. I couldn’t resist getting my camera out. I am not a professional photographer. Mainly, I have fun. It was interesting for me to compare my efforts with those of Adam’s when I got home. The power of the Ansel Adams’ photograph is immediately apparent. It is easy to see why he is recognized as one of the world’s greatest photographers. Still, I was happy with my efforts.

 Ansel Adams photo

Ansel Adams’ powerful photo of the church.

My photo of St. Teresa's Catholic Church from the Potter School.

My photo of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church from the back near the Potter School.

My perspective facing the church from the left.

My perspective facing the church from the left.

And from the right.

And from the right.

A front view of St. Teresa's Catholic Church showing a stained glass window.

A front view of St. Teresa’s Catholic Church showing a stained glass window.

A final photo of St. Teresa's Church in Bodega looking from the doors up.

A final photo looking up from the doors.

44 comments on “Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds, Bodega, and Ansel Adams… California’s North Coast

  1. I loved this post Curt. It’s interesting to read about Hitchcock. He was so talented and yet there seemed to be another side to him that was a bit on the negative side (as is most likely true about everyone…but maybe not so dark as his). Your photos are wonderful.

    • Thanks so much Sylvia. One of the dark stories was about Tippi. Apparently Hitchcock was so taken by her he tied her into a contract and wouldn’t let her do any other movies, seriously impacting her career.–Curt

  2. I love it there. It’s pretty close to where I live and we go camping in the area as often as we can especially this time of year. (Warmer than home.) I love that the movie was filmed there too. It’s such a classic. Thanks for the film tour!

    • Escaping to the coast from Sacramento during the winter was a major objective of mine during the years I lived there. Tule fog guaranteed I’d be packing up. Often as not, Bodega Bay was where I went. The movie just adds to the experience. –Curt

      • I am out of Southern Oregon about 30 miles west of Medford and Ashland on the upper Applegate River about five miles from the California Border. The weather is quite similar to the foothills above Sacramento where I was raised. We too have suffered from the drought and are very much appreciating the rain now. –Curt

      • What fun. A mere 30 miles away via the back roads. And I always enjoy our commute between here and Sacramento where Peggy and I both have family and friends. Mt. Shasta is one of the main reasons. It is, no doubt, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, almost mystical. My Christmas blog will feature photos from our recent snow storm here. And the weatherman is predicting snow for Christmas! May you and your family have a great Holiday. –Curt

    • Thanks Carrie. The squirrel is a kick. He knows the seeds are there and he can’t get at them. Ground squirrels try to climb the pole as well, without as much success as the gray squirrel. Up they climb and down they slide. –Curt

  3. I heard that Hitchcock was originally planning on not using real birds in the famous scene and that is why Tippi agreed to do the movie. When Hitchcock saw that the “movie” birds looked awful on film, he switch to live birds without telling the star and the panic you see on her face was REAL. Did you hear any of that in Bodega?

    • No, GP, but I did read that he used a combination of mechanical birds and real birds, tying them on strings. Crows, which are used in the movie, are actually rare in the area. I suspect if you took a large had and put food in/on it, you could attract seagulls, which would certainly look like and attack! 🙂 –Curt

  4. I worked on some trawlers out of Bodega for a couple winters in the eighties. I can remember the first time driving around town and seeing those old buildings from the movie and almost getting the chills…hehe. Great little town though, and in those days had some fantastic seafood restaurants. I would love to head down that direction again.

    • Bodega is pretty much the same town it was in the 80s, Howard. Bodega Bay has suffered/gained from Bay Area creep… depending on your perspective. It can still be charming, but is very expensive. Bodega Head is the same gorgeous headland it always has been if you can catch it when not so crowded there isn’t even a parking place. It must have been quite an experience working on a trawler out of there. I was leading bike treks and walking tours up and down the coast in the 80s and 90s. –Curt

  5. It’s the leading lines in Adams’ photo that make it so powerful. And the spare simplicity. I would have taken the same kind of shots as you, but can see why Adams’ got the better of both of us.
    That mannequin of Hitchcock is just plain creepy.
    Alison

    • A lovely dirt road, long since gone. Mine would have been made of pavement. 🙂 And simplicity, a hall mark of his photos. I’ve been to several sites he photographed over the years. Also, I’ve read that he would work in his dark room making dozens of copies of a particular subject before he was happy with it. As for Hitchcock, somehow the mannequin is appropriate to the man. He was the master of creeping people out. Did you ever watch Psycho? And then take a shower alone in a house by yourself? –Curt

  6. Bird feeder watching is the best pastime, especially when other species are interested. Love how insistent your sparrows are! That must have been fun. Interesting that Bodega can still trade on it’s cinematic history – looks fun to visit for whatever reason.

  7. To this day, the movie The Birds haunts me! Thanks for showing us the pics of Bodega. I really had no idea where the movie was filmed, and I also have no idea how the movie makers assembled so many birds on call. It was before the time of computerization, so I’m assuming it was a true Hollywood feat. 🙂 Thanks, too, for including the Potter School and the Ansel Adams pics. He’s one of my heroes, too!

    • Birds like to assemble (grin), they just aren’t into attacking people. (Unless you are trying to catch photos of wild baby turkey chicks.I found mom got rather excited and came at me feet first.) –Curt

    • Thanks Stacy. They are such beautiful little fluffs of action, though. 🙂 Admittedly if they spent half the energy eating that they spend chasing each other they would probably get fat. –Curt

  8. I must never have seen Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Apparently, if I’d seen it, I would remember it. I know I’ve never seen “Psycho,” either. I do remember “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” but that seems to be the only “horror” film I can recall. It actually was funny rather than scary.

    I love your pics of the church. Yes, of course Ansel Adams’ photo would be iconic, but why not compare our work to his? It’s better than comparing our photos to the framed ones selling three for a dollar at Wal-Mart.

    • As long as we are on vegetable horror flicks, Linda, I might point out that The Thing from my first ever horror film in 1951 was a modified carrot.If there was humor in the film, I certainly failed to notice it at the time, however.
      And right you are on Ansel Adams. Always shoot for the sky! —Curt

  9. Great photos of the church, and nice B&W too. I think Ansel would appreciate your work. I have to say I am totally delighted with the sparrows in the feeder while you are holding it! They certainly were not waiting around.

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