For the Birds Radio Program: A Birder's Guide to TV

Original Air Date: Oct. 17, 1986 Rerun Dates: Oct. 24, 1986

In the world of TV, you never know what birds are going to pop up where.

Duration: 3′40″


A Birder’s Guide to TV

(Recording of a Screech Owl)

Not too long ago, as I was switching on “Sesame Street” for my little girl, the call of a screech owl, and then a Common Loon, on channel three caught my attention. It took only a second or two to figure out that I was in the midst of “The Young and the Restless,” a program I used to watch back in college, and sure enough, they were still using the same owl and loon tapes they used back in ‘75 to lend authenticity to their evening-in-the-woods scenes.

Eleven years ago, Jill Foster spent a lot of time out in the summer house with Mr. Chancellor, their romance witnessed only by a loon, a screech owl, and millions of viewers. Nobody ever mentioned any nearby lakes, but there obviously must have been one a stone’s throw away, or how could a loon have been right there? Now, after eleven years, poor Mr. Chancellor is dead, Jill has aged only a tiny bit, and the baby they started in the summer house is in college–babies grow fast in TV Land. But the same old loon and screech owl are singing the exact same tune–a remarkable illustration of the survival power of birds nourished only by celluloid.

Fortunately, most soap opera action takes place indoors, so there is usually little cause for producers to pull out their bird tapes. But prime time TV often uses outdoor scenes. “Little House on the Prairie” was supposed to be set in Minnesota, but the abundant Carolina Wrens singing impossibly alongside Rock Wrens in the background made it clear to any armchair birders that the program should have been titled “Little House in a Hollywood Backlot.”

Made-for-TV movies are even worse. In one a few years ago, titled “The Mating Season,” Lucie Arnaz found herself with a busload of birdwatchers en route to the Appalachian wilderness. The man who became her romantic interest hiked for two days, through dense forests and over treacherous cliffs, to find the nest of a Blue Jay. Now I’d bet that the real photographer of the nesting jay footage took that film right in his back yard–no birder in his right mind would ever go to that kind of trouble to see a Blue Jay. Of course that’s no worse than the Folger’s Coffee commercial where the man took his love out to a marsh at dawn and suddenly cried, “There it is! There it is! The Red- winged Blackbird!” pointing out one of the most abundant birds in the whole country as if it were a virtually-extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

But the worst thing about “The Mating Season” was the little old lady in tennis shoes–a perfect Miss Jane Hathaway clone–who searched for a Hudsonian Godwit in the Appalachian forests–about as far from the bird’s range and habitat as she could possibly get.

In “Evergreen,” a TV miniseries a couple of years ago, Robert Vaughn played an aging bird-watcher. His little grandson pushed him in a wheelchair through a New York park as Robert Vaughn pointed out an Eastern Wood Pewee–he even spent some time describing the song, “pe-a- wee.” But did the producers bother to get a tape of a real Pewee?

(Recording of an Eastern Wood Pewee)

Nope–they played a canary!

(Recording of a Canary)

It’s enough to make this birder give up on sivilization and light out for the territory. Some TV programs are truly “For the Birds.”