Hollywood is the place where accuracy goes to die. And this is certainly evident with anything related to science or bird biology; neither field gets much respect from the movie-making bigwigs in Tinseltown. The world of birds is certainly no exception as directors, producers and film editors play fast and loose with the sounds and images of birds, mixing and matching them with all the finesse of a hyperactive child playing with a new chemistry set.
Since almost everyone watches movies, it was inevitable that some theatres would have sharp-eyed (and keen-eared) birders in the audience. Over the past several years, they have combined to produce this list of the best in bird-related movie blunders.
Dances With Wolves (1990)
Kevin Costner claims he sees three geese flying over the plains, when they are not geese but Sandhill Cranes.
Jurassic Park III (1991)
A Wood Thrush is heard singing in the Montana badlands, even though Wood Thrushes live in forests, and certainly not the forests in Montana.
Mockingbird calls are heard near the end of this movie. During the time-period in which the film is set (the 1870’s), the Mockingbird range was entirely in the American south. There were no Mockingbirds in Maine where this movie takes place — not even in the year the film was made (by which time the mockingbird’s range had extended to New York and New Jersey).
Charlie’s Angels (2000)
The secret to finding the bad guys is when Cameron Diaz identifies the sound of the “rare Pygmy Nuthatch” and claims it is only found in Carmel, California. She mis-identifies both the species and the fact that Pygmy Nuthatch’s are only found in pine forests, not cities.
D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
At the end of the movie, a ‘V’ of geese is seen flying over, to the sound of quacking ducks.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Supposedly set in the USA, several European bird species can be heard in this movie, including the White Wagtail, Song Thrush, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Blackcap and Willow Warbler.
Ethan Frome (1993)
During a mid-winter scene early in this film, which was set in the state of Maine, a Red-eyed Vireo can be heard singing off in the distance. These vireos spend the winter months in South America and don’t arrive back in Maine until late spring.
While Charlie Sheen and his fellow soldiers are on a combat patrol deep in the mountain jungles of Vietnam, the long, plaintive song of a Common Loon can be heard nearby. Loons don’t hang out in jungles.
In this animated family film about dinosaurs, the velociraptors (which are vicious, medium-sized carnivores) sound exactly like Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Finding Forrester (2000)
The bird in the tree outside his window, which William Forrester photographs and identifies as a rarely seen Connecticut Warbler, is actually a rather common Yellow Warbler.
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
This movie may have been set in Africa but the birds you could hear, including Barred Owls, Boreal Owls and Common Nighthawks, are all native to North America
Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
When Griet and Vermeer look at the Dutch landscape outside their window, it is the middle of winter. However, you can hear the calls of Swallows, a species which are not found in northern or central Europe in winter.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
After Harry Powell disappears from the front of Ms. Cooper’s yard, a Barn Owl swoops down to grab a rabbit amidst a noisy flurry of flapping wings. One of the reasons why owls are such successful hunters is that their wings do not make any sound when they are flying.
Oliver Twist (1997)
In the modern re-make of this classic film, there is a crow who hangs out in the Artful Dodger’s hide-away, and this crow is continually caw-ing throughout the film. The calls of this crow are identical to the calls made by the animated crow which flies around the nuclear power plant in the television show, The Simpson’s.
Lord of the Flies (1990)
Even though this movie takes place on an island in the South Pacific, Red-tailed Hawks can be heard. This hawk species is not found outside of North or South America.
ET, The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
In the opening scene of this movie, which is set in California, you can hear an Eastern Screech Owl, a species which is not found anywhere near California.
Winter of Our Discontent (1983)
In a snowy landscape in winter, a Hermit Thrush can be heard singing. Not only do Hermit Thrush’s not sing during the winter but they migrate to Central and South America.
Harry Potter (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007)
Although a wide diversity of authentic owls appeared in these delightful films (e.g., Snowy Owls, Great Gray Owls, Little Owls, Eurasian Scops Owls, Eagle Owls and Screech-Owls), it is reasonably believed that neither the owls in England, nor those in most other countries, are used to deliver the mail.
If you see, or hear, any other bird-related bloopers next time you are enjoying a movie, please pass them on to me and I will be happy to add them to this list.