For the Birds Radio Program: Are our gulls out of Hitchcock?

Original Air Date: July 10, 1987 Rerun Dates: Sept. 2, 1988

Several Duluth news writers are likening Duluth’s Ring-billed Gulls to The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. This episode features the radio debut of Laura’s 5-year-old son Joey.(3:11) Date, and date of repeat, confirmed.

Duration: 3′15″


(Recording of Ring-billed Gulls)

For the past few weeks, some unoriginal area journalists have been recalling Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller, “The Birds,” when decrying Duluth’s newest junk food junkies, the Ring-billed Gulls, using Hitchcock’s dramatic images to conjure up bad feelings about our gulls. Nobody seems to recall that “The Birds” is really a cautionary tale. Hitchcock’s feathered plague descended on the movie town to free some captive birds from miserable incarceration in cages. Even if that premise was somehow plausible, the movie was hardly a realistic commentary on the threat of birds. Alfred Hitchcock used mostly fake birds and stuffed specimens–one of the crows sitting on the schoolhouse steps in a particularly ominous scene was the identical bird Norman Bates had stuffed in “Psycho.” The scenes with crows flying were terrible from an ornithological standpoint–the wings flapped much too rapidly for real crows, and the vocalizations had obviously been recorded at a tropical aviary. The scenes with gulls at least used real bird actors, but if they were truly angry, it was only because they weren’t being paid scale.

Ring-billed Gulls first tried breeding in Duluth in the early 70’s. At first nesting efforts were unsuccessful, but once they got going, they started multiplying like flies. Eventually their population will become self-limiting. Some ornithologists speculate that they are displacing native terns and the endangered Piping Plover, but that hypothesis is hard to prove–my guess is that the heavy development in the harbor area has a lot to do with the disappearance of these less- civilized species.

Duluth’s Ring-billed Gull population is the only group of birds that has ever successfully uprooted House Sparrows from McDonald’s. Not even pigeons have invaded the fast food franchise habitat–of course that may be, as one listener put it, because pigeons have some standards. But Ring-billed Gulls are the only native bird that shares America’s voracious appetite for fast food and parking lots. Isn’t it sad that the birds that most reflect the habits of human beings are the ones human beings most despise?

Anyway, the gulls do have their share of friends, even if the Northland’s media are not among them. Before I close the book on seagulls for good, my five-year old son Joey has a few comments he would like to address to those journalists who still are haunted by an outdated movie:

(Joey) Tippi Hendron is an actress. Alfred Hitchcock paid her lots of money to pretend she was scared of birds. He smeared her with fake blood, too. Real birds don’t hurt people, even though sometimes people hurt real birds.

(Recording of Ring-billed Gulls)

That was Joey Erickson, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”