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The 10 best birds in movies

January 10th, 2014 · by Garrison Frost

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With birds being such a big part of the human experience, it’s no surprise that so many have worked their way into our art, and more specifically, our movies. The following list of the Top 10 movie birds is totally subjective, so we’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions. So here we go:

10. Howard in “Howard the Duck.”

At the risk of turning people off with our first selection, we nonetheless felt compelled to include the leading character from what many will argue is one of the worst films of all time. It could be because enough time has passed that this amazingly uncool movie has actually attained a certain hip cred. Or it could be that no one has ever spent so much money and talent to put a duck at the center of pop culture. Or it could just be that “Howard the Duck” is so big, so awful, so completely absent any value, that it just cannot be ignored. Either way, here it is.

9. Scuttle in “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney and others have made a lot of fictional animals in recent years, and we could probably create a whole list just for animated birds. When Ariel decides to learn more about humans, it’s no surprise that she turns to a gull. Because, really, it’s hard to imagine any bird having humans so totally figured out than a gull (except maybe a crow) . That Scuttle turns out to be so endearing in his misconceptions makes his character all the more endearing.

8. Penguins, migratory birds, parrots, etc. “March of the Penguins,” “Winged Migration,” Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” etc.

The goal of this list was to highlight birds that played a particular character in a movies, and that would seem to have disqualified the subjects of big ticket documentaries such as “March of the Penguins,” “Winged Migration,” and “The Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” But in these movies — “The Legend of Pale Male” is another — we have to admit that the birds take on a magical persona that captures our imagination as well as any character in a fictional movie. In this light, we’re going to mention a moment in the movie “Ghost Bird” when we view some of the last black-and-white footage ever taken of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It’s a powerful moment.

7. Isabeau in “Ladyhawke.”

Pretty cool bird that is half of the title character. The clip above shows how truly dated this movie is — but then you have to give it points for the fact that the bird occasionally turns into an 80s era Michelle Pfeiffer. Looks as though the bird in question is a Red-tailed Hawk, but we’re open to other opinions on that.

6. Mordecai in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

We’re not too sure what Mordecai represents in Wed Anderson’s glorious movie about a family of geniuses, but we’ll take a shot and guess that it has something to do with being free enough to come home and be happy. Either way, totally cool to see this falcon soar over New York City.

5. The eagles in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Of all the opposing forces at play in these movies, the one that seems to stand out is the giant eagles’ ability to literally rise above the mayhem and do whatever they want. Which begs the question as to why the hobbits are forced to do on foot what the eagles could probably have done in a few minutes with quite a bit less drama.

4. The birds in “The Birds.”

Hard to leave these guys out of any list. While none of the birds themselves play a unique character, the mass of them present one of Hollywood’s all-time great plot devices: What if the birds that we so often take for granted just went berserk one day? And berserk they go, making a mess out of a quaint California coastal village. One of the things we love about this movie is the way the attack finally ends. We don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that the ending is just as mysterious as the beginning, which is about a mysterious as the forces that guide birds in the real world.

3. Uncle Jimmy’s pet raven in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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Those who have picked apart every second of Frank Capra’s iconic holiday film have no doubt thought it odd that a raven appears at least three times in the movie – perhaps bringing with it a huge chuck of allegory. Turns out the bird that played the part was something of a Hollywood icon, making its placement on this list all the more appropriate.

2. Hedwig in the “Harry Potter” movies.

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For fans of the Harry Potter movies, Hedwig the Snowy Owl provided a great introduction to birds. While the character of Hedwig was female, it appears that all of the owls playing the role were male – which accounts for the bird’s bright while feathers. Either way, great to see a bird playing such a key, emotional role in a blockbuster series.

1. Rodan in “Rodan.” 

If we’re going to stipulate that dinosaurs are birds, then Rodan qualifies for this list. And once it’s on the list, it has to go right to No. 1. Created from the same classic 1950s Japanese monster genre that produced Godzilla, Rodan came out of the earth to wreak havoc on major cities. While much of this genre was about the monsters making mankind pay the price for our treatment of the environment (Remember, Godzilla was a product of nuclear fallout.), it’s quite possible that Rodan represented payback for all the bad things we’ve ever done to birds. Message received, Rodan. Message received.

Categories: Audubon California · Birding · birds and culture

5 Comments so far ↓

  • Birds

    [...] The ten best birds in movies. At least in one person’s opinion. [...]

  • Pat Turner

    There were actually 3 different Red Tailed Hawks in Ladyhawke, according to Rutger Hauer, who played Etienne in the film. “There was a nice bird, a not-so-nice bird, and a mean bird, ” he said in an interview shortly after the film was released in 1985.

  • Slim

    It is a stretch to call Rodan a “bird”.

    On my “top ten” -

    Jeremy from “The Secret of Nimh”.
    Wilbur from “The Rescuers Down Under”.
    Nigel from “Finding Nemo”.
    Samantha from “Friendly Persuasion”.
    All of the birds in “Chicken Run”.

  • Denise Ryan

    Also, what about The Big Year?

  • Denise Ryan

    Winged Migration? What about that one?