‘The Birds’ by Daphne Du Maurier: The short story and its movie adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock

The Birds’ written by Daphne Du Maurier was published in 1952. This story is a part of the collection called ‘The Apple Tree’.

“Never heard of birds getting savage.” Then, this is the story to read. A horrifying tale of birds’ attack on humankind.

The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier

The story focuses on Nat Hocken, who suffered disability during the war and his family (his wife and two children) living in a seaside town, three hundred miles away from London. He works three days a week at Mr.Triggs’ farm. The events begin to unfold from 3rd of December when there is a sudden change in the wind and winter arrives, almost overnight.

The restlessness of the birds flocked together crying and whistling catches Nat’s attention. However, he thinks that “a message comes to the birds in autumn, like a warning. Winter is coming. Many of them perish. And like people who, apprehensive of death before their time, drive themselves to work or folly, the birds do likewise.” Maurier widely explores the colours of nature, from trees to sky to the waves to build the atmosphere in sync with the changed behaviour of the birds. As the story is set on a seaside town, migratory birds and their relation with the tide is embedded in moving forward the narrative. 

Horror comes alive that night as Nat and his family are asleep. There is constant tapping on the window and finally, the birds are able to enter the children’s room and attack Johny, Nat’s son. The children are horrified. But, Nat continues to believe that perhaps it is the cold and hunger driving these birds restless. It is, rather unusual to see the small birds – robins, finches, sparrows, blue tits, larks and bramblings flocking together in an attack of this sort. These birds’ species always kept to their own flock and territories were now united. It is Nat’s wife who believes that there may be some other reason for this queer behaviour.

Nat’s wife believed that hunger has not turned them violent, for it had not snowed and there was plenty of food on the farm. Later, even Nat comes to agree and say that it was going to be a black winter and not white winter; it would not snow. The huge disposition is that the birds are affected by the weather. And, perhaps, in the initial spurt of violence, these were the birds from foreign lands, the Arctic Circle.

The next morning, the family sends Jill to school while Johny stays back. Nat goes to the farm and speaks to his fellow workers but nobody experienced any of the horrors. And, the morning seemed calm, without a bird in sight. It is only when Nat arrives home from the farm that his wife confirms the strange attacks by birds across Britain announced on the radio. London had come to a standstill with the vast quantity of birds like pigeons, house sparrows, starlings flocking.

Nat focuses on keeping his family safe, ensuring the availability of food and other required supplies while they would hide inside the house from the attacks. He works hard at sealing all the windows, doors and openings to the house that birds can probably find. There is a belief in Nat’s wife that the government should send the army to shoot down the birds. But, Nat realizes that the rescue operations for this small town will come way after London and other big cities.  

As Nat senses danger as he sees Gulls coming from the sea towards land, he rushes to pick Jill from the bus and meeting Mr.Trigg, asks him to take her in the car. Mr. Triggs continues to be dismissive of any imminent bird attack and takes it in a lighter vein. He thinks that his gun is sufficient against any bird.

By the time Nat reaches home, the attacks by the birds have begun and he is injured. Though Jill has reached home safely.

A National Emergency is announced on the radio. The last broadcast comes at 4 o’clock and requests the people to tune in at 7 am the next morning, as till then there will be no transmission.

The night is disturbed with repeated attacks on the boards fixed by Nat on the doors and windows and the birds try to force through the chimney. The futility of their hopes for help vanishes with no transmission on the radio till 8.30 am on the next morning. Nat takes upon himself the responsibility of keeping his family safe for as far as possible. He heads out to get more supplies. Nat realizes the movement of the birds linked with the turn in tides. He has six hours to redo the sealing and get supplies. On the visit to the farm, he sees the dead bodies of the Triggs.  

The horror is built piece by piece. Du Maurier brings in a number of bird species, clubbing the small birds together and then the larger one, the predators together. As the author concentrates on Nat, the suffering of one family, the emotions are intensified. And, there is no explanation regarding what turns the birds into these spurts of violent attacks.

Maurier leaves you at an open-ended juncture. Nat’s family, the only apparent survivors waiting for another night of attacks. I am not sure how this one should end. Did Nat and his family survive and did they see a peaceful world when they came out, it is only how you imagine the future to be.

There is also a suggestion that the attack by the birds was used as a metaphor for the aerial attacks during the World War on the innocent civilians by the author. Daphne Du Maurier uses metaphors like ‘an air raid shelter’ and ‘lull in battle’ that may be suggestive of the case.

The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock pc google images

Alfred Hitchcock made ‘The Birds’ into a cinematic experience in 1963. Though bringing the paranormal element of ‘The Birds’ by Daphne Du Maurier, Hitchcock tried to glamourize the setting. So the affable, humble Nat is replaced by Mitch, a charming Criminal Defense Attorney who accidentally meets with the young and beautiful socialite, Melanie in a bird shop in the city. Melanie pretends to be the bird seller to Mitch, who has come to get a pair of love birds for his younger sister on her birthday.

Mitch stays at Bodega Bay house with his mother and sister on the weekends. Knowing this, Melanie heads out for the address from the bird shop, with a pair of love birds in her car. On reaching Bodega Bay, a lazy town on the seaside, she hires a boat, reaches Mitch’s house and sneaks in the love birds. However, Mitch spots her and tries to go behind her. On her way back, Melanie is attacked by a seagull. This sets the ball rolling for the subsequent bird horror events to unravel.

In this movie, there is romance, motherly obsession, sisterly love and an angle of the jealous old flame while birds do keep coming in and out to prove their presence. Hitchcock plays more on our minds with the characters pitted against each other, than to build up the aviary horror.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge under Alphabet D.

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