Have you ever noticed bird calls while watching a movie? Bird calls are often used in films to create an atmosphere or mood. To create a creepy feeling, Common Loons are often used, while the Mourning Warbler’s song might suggest a neighborhood or homey feeling. Interestingly though, the setting or location of a movie or commercial scene is often not aligned with the bird’s actual territory, so the bird sound is completely out of place.

Here are just a few fun examples. In the nature PBS mini-series, Spy in the Wild, an Eastern Wood-pewee was used in a prairie scene and then also for a fictional world in Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series. The Eastern Wood-pewee is an active migrant Flycatcher normally found during the breeding season in deciduous forests of Eastern North America, and in the winter in Northern South America.

Source: “The 12 most common bird calls in movies and TV

A wild prairie dog

lives nowhere near

an Eastern Wood-pewee

Another example is the Laughing Kookaburra’s call in the 1962 movie Cape Fear, which takes place in the American Southeast. This bird’s home is the dry eucalyptus forests of Eastern Australia, not the U.S.

No matter what sounds Hollywood uses, we can’t actually expect to find a wild Laughing Kookaburra in the U.S.!

One of the most used but ill-placed bird sounds is the haunting Common Loon’s wailing call, which has been found in the historical film, 1917, in a war scene set in Europe; in the third Harry Potter movie; in Rick and Morty; in the movie Harriet; in The X-Files; in Jack Ryan; in a swamp scene of The Witcher; in the movie Platoon; and likely many more. Normally, Common Loons can be found diving in lakes in Canada and the Northern United States. They have some really interesting attributes, such as their “penguin dance.”

Source: “Why Hollywood Loves This Creepy Bird Call

“Penguin dance” of the Common Loon. Loons raise themselves up when they feel threatened, making them look a bit like penguins.

Also like penguins, Common Loons have barbed tongues with sharp spines called ‘papillae’ — a feature that helps their mouths hold onto slippery fish—and they usually swallow their food under water. In the movies though, their calls can be heard in scenes set in Bolivia, Hawaii, South Africa, India, Japan and beyond, far from their home territories and habitats.

So, are bird calls hard to record or access, and that’s why there are so many gaffes? Actually, recordings of bird calls can easily be found on the site Xeno-canto, which provides sounds of birds, grasshoppers, and bats from around the world. Although bird sounds in art and entertainment certainly aren’t required to be accurate, it’s more pleasant for birders when they are!

So, when tuning into your next movie with a bag of popcorn in hand, be sure to keep an ear out for bird calls and see if you can identify any.

To learn bird songs, go here.

Heidi Shiver, Bird Town Pennsylvania President and member of the PA Audubon Council Executive Committee

Image Sources:

Black-tailed_prairie_dog_sitting_in_burrow_-_DPLA_-_cbbc193c84cf2780e35f7fdc17ff6861,
by Warren Garst, licensed under CC By-SA 4.0 Deed

Eastern_wood_peewee_(35886964343), by Russ, licensed under CC By 2.0 Deed

Laughing_kookaburra_(Dacelo_novaeguineae)_at_Lane_Poole_Reserve,_January_2022_10, by Calistemon,
licensed under CC By-SA 4.0 Deed

Common Loon: Gavia_immer_-Pike_Lake,_Lanark_County,_Ontario,_Canada-8, by The.Rohit, licensed under
CC By 2.0 Deed